Pope Francis' latest apostolic exhortation was written to help us become holy. We all try to be good but how many of us think being holy is something to aim for? Isn't holiness only for special people? The Pope thinks otherwise. His message in 'Gaudete et exsultate' gives clear directions on achieving this. In the central chapter, 'Going against the flow', he takes the reader through the Sermon on the Mount, and shows what the Beatitudes tell us about holiness in our lives. These steps are simple but not easy.
1. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' The Pope warns us that becoming obsessed with money and possessions makes us 'so self-satisfied that we leave no room for God's word, for the love of our brothers and sisters, or for the enjoyment of the most important things in life'. This is a difficult teaching: 'to live a plain and austere life ... to share in the life of those most in need.'
Being poor of heart: that is holiness
2. 'Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.' This is extremely counter-cultural. He tells us to be patient, to put up with other people's faults, to stop feeling superior, to avoid labelling or making hasty judgements. He acknowledges that 'if I am that meek, they will think that I am an idiot, a fool or a weakling' but we should still put our hope and trust in God.
Reacting with meekness and humility: that is holiness
3. 'Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.' This is very different advice than the constant stream of messages to seek 'entertainment, pleasure, diversion' and to 'disregard painful situations'. Rather we should come 'to the aid of those who suffer, understanding their anguish and bringing relief.'
Knowing how to mourn with others: that is holiness
4. 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.' The Pope points out that 'many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to follow in the train of the winners.' He reminds us that we should cultivate right relationships with everybody but pay special attention to 'those who are most vulnerable'.
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness: that is holiness
5. 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.' Forgiveness is easy until our feelings get involved. Pope Francis says we should reproduce 'in our lives some small measure of God's perfection, which gives and forgives superabundantly' and he reminds us that 'Jesus does not say, "Blessed are those who plot revenge". He calls "blessed" those who forgive and do so "seventy times seven".'
Seeing and acting with mercy: that is holiness
6. 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.' The Pope says: 'Certainly there can be no love without works of love, but this Beatitude reminds us that the Lord expects a commitment to our brothers and sisters that comes from the heart ... what proceeds from the heart is what defiles a person, for from the heart come murder, theft, false witness, and other evil deeds. From the heart's intentions come the desires and the deepest decisions that determine our actions.'
Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness
7. 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.' Pope Francis begins this teaching at a personal level with warnings about the dangers of gossip. He calls us to make peace with everyone, 'even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult, demanding, different, beaten down by life or simply uninterested. It is hard work; it calls for great openness of mind and heart ... it must "face conflict head on, resolve it and make it a link in the chain of a new process." We need to be artisans of peace, for building peace is a craft that demands serenity, creativity, sensitivity and skill.'
Sowing peace all around us: that is holiness
8. 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Pope Francis reminds us 'how many people have been, and still are, persecuted simply because they struggle for justice, because they take seriously their commitment to God and to others. Unless we wish to sink into an obscure mediocrity, let us not long for an easy life, for "whoever would save his life will lose it".' He goes on to say, 'Whatever weariness and pain we may experience in living the commandment of love and following the way of justice, the cross remains the source of our growth and sanctification.'
Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness