Gaudete et Exsultate

Easter season still surrounds us; its scent lingers in the churches as we walk with the Risen Christ through our Sunday readings. For newly-initiated Catholics, it is the period of “mystagogy;” a time to derive a new perception of the faith, the Church, and the world. It is also a time to catechize the newly-initiated on what it means to be a Catholic, a lesson we should re-examine on a regular basis. Pope Francis delivered a simple refresher course on the essentials of Christian holiness in his recently promulgated exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate

“Rejoice and Be Glad” is a call to holiness for all people in the world, and is firmly rooted in the lessons Jesus gave us in the Gospels. Pope Francis explains that the path to holiness is guided by two important and complementary texts from the Gospel of Matthew: the Beatitudes (Mt 5: 3-12) and the Final Judgment (Mt 25). The Beatitudes are the platform on which Jesus built the road to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Final Judgment, or as Pope Francis calls it, The Great Criterion, is the only place in Scripture that gives us a clear criterion for how we will be judged by God. Mercy and care for the vulnerable define our mission; failure is not an option.

Living the Beatitudes is how we are identified as Christians, thus Pope Francis cleverly calls them, “Christian ID cards.” Whether our ID cards are brand new or well worn, they should be on display as we journey on our paths to holiness. We can be easily misdirected on our journey when we stray from the Beatitudes and focus on nonessential elements of the faith. Pope Francis reminds us “the path to holiness flows through the Beatitudes, not through anything we deem important.” He rebukes people embracing an intellectualized and abstract faith, preferring “a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people.” Pope Francis also warns those with an obsession with doing unimportant actions as a means to reaching holiness that is only attained through the Beatitudes. “Our Lord made it very clear that holiness cannot be understood or lived apart from these demands, for mercy is ‘the beating heart of the Gospel.’”

In his reflection on the Beatitudes, Pope Francis placed each into a contemporary context to help us understand how one can derive Spiritual gifts from difficult situations. The poor in spirit gain the Kingdom of Heaven because they are free from attachments to created things. Pope Francis draws on the “Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius” when he describes Spiritual poverty as having an attitude of indifference to the things of the world. This frees us from that “need to have it” attitude that distorts our decisions. The meek will inherit the earth by their humility. Nobody wants to be meek in our society, but humility is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that Jesus insists will help us to experience God’s promises in our lives. 

Pope Francis reminds us that mourning is personal and global. Those who are on a path to holiness will see the struggles of others and sincerely mourn for them, whether they are friends or strangers. Those who “weep with those who weep” are given special insight into their needs, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, will find a way to bring relief. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. They seek justice with an urgency that won’t be satisfied until the vulnerable and marginalized are protected. Seeking justice for the least among us is a non-negotiable of Christian faith. 

If we are to carry the ID card of Christianity, then we must breathe justice into all of our decisions in life. The merciful will receive mercy because it is the lens through which we see God at work in our own lives. “Giving and forgiving means reproducing in our lives some small measure of God’s perfection, which gives and forgives superabundantly.” The pure in heart will see God because they act with sincerity and are genuine in their pursuit of love for neighbor. The peacemakers will be called children of God, but we have to begin by making peace within our smallest circles. If we begin with the little conflicts that plague our lives, then we order our small corner of the world toward peace. 

When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes He knew that it was going to run counter to the way the world operates. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. “Accepting the daily path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.” Being a Christian in this world is not meant to be easy, but we have been given what we need from the Holy Spirit in order to walk this path. Together with the new members of the Church we can renew our commitment to finishing the journey.

Anchor columnist Claire McManus is the director of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. 

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