In chapters four from Gaudete et exsultate (On the Call to Holiness), Pope Francis speaks of traits found in the world today that portray holiness and uses them as a how to guide for disciples. These virtues are hard to come by, but they are made possible through resting with God in prayer whenever he grants us the opportunity. They can’t be perceived as just words. They must be seen as conduits carrying the very energy of Christ’s burning heart for the world.
Chapter four is entitled Signs of Holiness in Today’s World. The words that follow by the Holy Father are not simply examples of what it means to be holy. The pope says these qualities are absolutely necessary if holiness is to take hold of us. Here are some, but not all of the qualities the pope outlines: perseverance, patience, meekness, joy, passion, community, and prayer. None of these on their own will suffice, we need a healthy dose of them all so we have the weapons needed to protect us on our journey.
Pope Francis gives perseverance as the first trait because it is the steady grounding of our hearts and lives in the trusting hands of the Father (#112). From the outset and through it all this must always be our stable footing. It will allow us to incorporate all other virtues in our lives because we will never give up while always pushing forward. Our foundation in the Father will allow us to grow in patience and humility. Humility is seen perfectly in humiliation:
“If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness. The holiness that God bestows on his Church comes through the humiliation of his Son. He is the way. Humiliation makes you resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of Christ” (#118).
Nothing can run us astray from the holy life, not even when others treat us like another Christ. Perseverance, patience, and humility make us appear as Christ to a world that desperately desires his gaze, even if they do not know it themselves.
If we are treated as insignificant and we are made to suffer, this does not strip us from our joy: “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures,” (#125). The Blessed Mother and all of the saints showed that the darkness of the cross only lasts a while. The light of the empty tomb eradicates all shadows of the cross from our lives. When we are united to the Son there is nothing that can keep us from the true happiness of life that God grants to us freely and lovingly.
Since the saints persevere through all obstacles and remain in a state of immovable joy, this gives them the confidence and strength to live a life emboldened by passion for the gospel. Holiness is “boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world” (#129). This means we are not caught up in ourselves, only concerned with our interior life while ignoring the needs of others that come to us. These are moments of grace, not moments of distraction. Boldness and passion are uniquely tied to compassion. The followers of Christ must look at Our Lord and watch his interactions as the guide to their lives (#131). Compassion forces us to avoid complacency and negativity. Complacency attempts to convince us that the problems of the world are so vast that our decisions and actions are irrelevant to aid change. Allow your heart to be unsettled by the demands of the Christian life (#137). Then holiness will be in control.
As unshakable members of the faithful we will be brought into communion with God and with others. Holiness must be lived out side by side with those around us. Life with others molds us in a tremendous fashion towards sanctification (#141). While with others we are called to imitate Christ’s attention to the details of the circumstances we are placed in. The details force us to be caught up with the needs of others, however small they might seem to be. In order to gain holy vision the saints were immersed in prayer. They craved union with the divine and stopped at nothing in quenching their thirst for the Lord. Prayer is a habitual openness to the transcendent; the silence of prayer is not a rejection from the world but an avenue to a holy perspective (#147, 152).
Persevering through the crosses of life and keeping our joy fixed on the Resurrection will keep our eyes on the main mission of life: union with the divine. This process starts here and now, with prayer and action. When we view life through the lens of these challenging but beautiful virtues we will be given a constant window to see the Father when he comes to us in the face of those we meet. Then these heroic and holy traits will stop being vague terms to learn and begin being opportunities to live out sacrificial love for God and others.
Editor’s note: This article is the third part in the series “Focus on Holiness,” which is an exploration of Gaudete et exsultate and how we can apply its lessons to grow in holiness.