Journeying into Holiness Today

INTRODUCTION

Pope Francis, through his 2018 apostolic exhortation Rejoice and Be Glad (Gaudete et Exsultate) [GE], has sparked a renewed interest in holiness. This inviting document bears the subtitle: “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” and it echoes the identical invitation found in Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium (#39-42): “The Universal Call to Holiness in the Church.”

WRITTEN BY

SHARE THE WORD

PUBLISHED ON

The Pope asserts that GE is meant to be very practical; it is not intended to be a total synthesis of holiness or spirituality today. “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time” (#2). The Lord “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence” (#1).

Undoubtedly, there are many forms of holiness. “We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness” (#11). Francis praises what he calls “the middle class of holiness” (#7); this includes ordinary people such as parents, workers, the sick and elderly.  Holiness is often found “in our next-door neighbors” (#7).  A simple norm is: “Each in his or her own way” (#11).  “For God’s life is communicated to some in one way and to others in another” (#11).

Francis quotes the challenging words of Leon Bloy: “The only great tragedy in life is not to become a saint” (#34). This modest article only explores three specific pathways on our pilgrimage into holiness: Holy Scripture, the Church, and the Saints.

Sacred Scripture
The Bible, including both Old and New Testaments, is replete with insights on holiness – too numerous to adequately capture in a short presentation.  God instructed Israel: “Since I, the Lord, brought you up from the land of Egypt that I might be your God, you shall be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:45). “Be holy in all you do, since it is the Holy One who has called you, and Scripture says: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet 1:15-16).

When the rich young man asked Jesus about what he should do to inherit eternal life (note he is sincerely seeking holiness), Jesus “looked steadily at him and loved him” and told him to keep the commandments, give his wealth to the poor, and “Come, follow me” (Mk 10:17-22). The request for honors by the mother of Zebedee’s sons (Mt 20:20-28) provokes a debate among the disciples; Jesus asserts that anyone who wants to be great (achieve genuine holiness) must be ready to serve, “just as the Son of  Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”

Saint Luke offers many realistic challenges as one pursues holiness. “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate.  Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give and there will be gifts for you” (Lk 7:36-38).  In John’s Gospel, we read: “If I, then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet” (Jn 13:14).  “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:12-13).

In Gaudete et Exsultate Pope Francis often uses Scripture to express his insights into holiness, inviting us to a close following of Jesus.  In fact, the third chapter of GE bears the title “In the Light of the Master”; it centers on the example of Jesus, specifically on the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12) and the Last Judgment narrative (Mt 25:31-46).

Francis notes that “the Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card” (#63).  He asserts that we must radically defend “the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection” (#101).  For Francis, mercy is central to authentic holiness; indeed, “mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life” (#105).

Church, A Supportive Community
A second, pivotal pathway into holiness is our membership in the Church.  For Francis in GE, “Growth in holiness is a journey in community, side by side with others….  Living or working alongside others is surely a path of spiritual growth” (#141).  “Each community is called to create a ‘God-enlightened space in which to experience the hidden presence of the risen Lord.’  Sharing the Word and celebrating the Eucharist together fosters fraternity and makes us a holy and missionary community” (#142).

We need community to grow in holiness, “to withstand the temptations of the devil and to proclaim the Gospel” (#158).  In and through the Church we have been given “powerful weapons” to assist us in our battle: “faith-filled prayer, meditation on the Word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach” (#162).

We need the Church, her Magisterium, and our fellow Christians to be able to better recognize and follow God’s will. Communally, we need to discern “how we can better accomplish the mission” (#174).  Finally, the Church gives us Mary as our mother and guide; “she lived the Beatitudes of Jesus as none other”; she is “the saint among the saints” (#176).

Communion of Saints 
One of the beauties of Gaudete et Exsultate is its invitation for all to become saints – but to do it in their own ways.  Each believer is to discern “his or her path” and to “bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts” (#11).  “This should excite and encourage us to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God has willed for each of us from eternity” (#13). To achieve our personal and unique holiness, we can look to the saints.

Saints are models of what our lives can be. In addition, based on our belief in the “communion of saints,” we turn to them for their friendship; we seek their intercession as companions and patrons. We believe that they pray for us. We celebrate their lives and virtues.  Borrowing a metaphor from Thérèse of Lisieux, we appreciate the saints like we enjoy the diverse beauties of a flower garden. Saint John XXIII reminds us that we take “the substance, not the accidents, of their virtues”; this means we become holy in our own unique way.

Each of us will certainly have our own favorites among the saints.  The “Little Way” of Thérèse of Lisieux, the “Little Flower,” appeals to many. Accepting that “joy and a sense of humor” (#122-128) are signs of holiness, we are attracted to John XXIII, Thomas More, Philip Neri, and Francis de Sales; we agree with Teresa of Avila who prayed to God to “deliver us from sour-faced saints.”

The missionary zeal of Francis Xavier and Damien of Molokai inspires us. The family values of Louis and Zélie Martin (parents of Thérèse) encourage us.  The commitment to justice and peace of Oscar Romero emboldens us.  Youth find inspiration from Maria Goretti, Dominic Savio, and Pedro Calungsod.  Indeed, “each in his or her own way” (#11).

Pilgrimage of Faith
Pope Francis’ call to authentic holiness is an invitation to a relationship with God.  This is a life-long pilgrimage of faith; it means entering into “God’s love story.”  It invites living into personal friendship with Jesus, who says to each of us: “I no longer call you servants … I call you my friends” (Jn 15:15).  Francis reminds us of the demands of holiness, asserting that “God asks everything of us, yet He also gives everything to us” (#175)

James H. Kroeger has served mission in Asia (Philippines and Bangladesh) since 1970, working in parishes and serving mostly in the education-formation apostolate of seminarians, religious, catechists, and lay leaders.  His most recent book is: Exploring the Priesthood with Pope Francis (Makati: St. Pauls). He may be contacted at:  jhkroeger@gmail.com 

Share Your Thoughts

All comments are moderated

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From The Same Issue

The articles and content about this issue

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

From This Topic

The articles and content about this topic

WM Special

Still up in arms

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

Explore Other Topics

Browse other coverage

WM SPECIAL

Presents, discusses and draws readers to reflect on issues of outmost relevance to the world today.


FRONTIERS

Very often, mission is carried out in frontier situations around the world. Those who embrace these situations have much to share.


UNITY IN DIVERSITY

Writer Ilsa Reyes will be exploring the richness of Pope Francis’s latest encyclical Fratelli Tutti with a view of helping our readers to get a grasp of the this beautiful papal document.


FRONTLINE

Puts to the front committed and inspiring people around the world who embrace humanitarian and religious causes with altruism and passion.


IN FOCUS

Focus on a given theme of interest touching upon social, economic and religious issues.


FAITH@50

As the Philippines prepares to celebrate 500 years of the arrival of Christianity. Fr. James Kroeger leads us in this series into a discovery journey of the landmark events in the history of faith in the Philippine archipelago.


INSIGHT

Aims to nurture and inspire our hearts and minds while pondering upon timely themes.


FILIPINO FOCUS

The large archipelago of the Philippines, in its richness of peoples and cultures, offers varied and challenging situations for mission.


FOLLOW ME

Reflections and vocation stories that shape up the lives of young people.


MISSION IS FUN

As humor and goodness of heart are qualities of Christian and missionary life, the new column “Mission is fun” will be publishing some anecdotes and stories that have happened in a missionary context to lighten up the spirits and trigger a smile in our faces.


LIVING COMMUNION

To help readers of World Mission live this year dedicated to Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, Tita Puangco, writer and lecturer, shares in this section insights on the spirituality of communion.


WINDS OF THE SPIRIT

A historic view of the Catholic movements that emerged from the grassroots as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit.


BRIDGE BUILDERS

On the Year of Ecumenism, Interreligious Dialogue and Indigenous Peoples, radio host and communicator Ilsa Reyes, in her monthly column, encourages Christians and people of good will to be one with their fellow people of other sects, religions and tribes.


INTERVIEW

Questions to a personality of the Church or secular world on matters of interest that touch upon the lives of people.


WORLD TOUCH

News from the Church, the missionary world and environment that inform and form the consciences.


CARE OF THE EARTH

A feature on environmental issues that are affecting the whole world with the view of raising awareness and prompting action.


EDITORIAL

The editor gives his personal take on a given topic related to the life of the Church, the society or the world.


YOUNG HEART

A monthly column on themes touching the lives of young people in the Year of the Youth in the Philippines by radio host and communicator I lsa Reyes.


SCROLL

A missionary living in the Chinese world shares his life-experiences made up of challenges and joyous encounters with common people.


EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE

Life stories of people who deserve to be known for who they were, what they did and what they stood for in their journey on earth.


ONE BY ONE

Stories of people whom a missionary met in his life and who were touched by Jesus in mysterious ways.


INCREASE OUR FAITH

Critical reflection from a Christian perspective on current issues.


SPECIAL MOMENTS

Comboni missionary Fr. Lorenzo Carraro makes a journey through history pinpointing landmark events that changed the course of humanity.


PROFILE

A biographical sketch of a public person, known for his/her influence in the society and in the Church, showing an exemplary commitment to the service of others.


WM REPORTS

Gives fresh, truthful, and comprehensive information on issues that are of concern to all.


LIFE'S ESSENTIALS

A column aimed at helping the readers live their Christian mission by focusing on what is essential in life and what it entails.


ASIAN FOCUS

Peoples, events, religion, culture and the society of Asia in focus.


THE SEARCHER'S PATH

The human heart always searches for greatness in God’s eyes, treading the path to the fullness of life - no matter what it takes.


INDIAN FOCUS

The subcontinent of India with its richness and variety of cultures and religions is given center stage.


AFRICAN FOCUS

The African continent in focus where Christianity is growing the fastest in the world.


JOURNEY MOMENTS

Well-known writer and public speaker, Fr. Jerry Orbos, accompanies our journey of life and faith with moments of wit and inspiration based on the biblical and human wisdom.


IGNATIUS STEPS

On the year dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyala, Fr. Lorenzo Carraro walks us through the main themes of the Ignatian spirituality.


THE SEVEN LAST WORDS OF JESUS

Fr. John Taneburgo helps us to meditate every month on each of the Seven Last Words that Jesus uttered from the cross.


INSIDE THE HOLY BOOK

In this section, Fr. Lorenzo delves into the secrets and depths of the Sacred Scriptures opening for us the treasures of the Sacred Book so that the reader may delight in the knowledge of the Word of God.


CONVERSATIONS

Reflections about the synodal journey on a conversational and informal style to trigger reflection and sharing about the synodal path the Church has embarked upon.

Shopping Cart