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Ramiro Pellitero Iglesias, Professor of Theology, University of Navarra, Spain School

Notes on holiness in our time

Thu, 31 May 2018 10:43:00 +0000 Posted in Church and New Evangelization

Taking into account the "features and limits of today's culture," the fourth chapter of Gaudete et exsultate highlights "some notes of holiness in today's world."

It is important to remember that most Christians are called to holiness through their ordinary life, that is, through work and their family, through their friendships and social and cultural activities, through their leisure and rest, through their joys and sorrows.

In fact, already in the first chapter, Francis points out: "Are you a worker? Be a saint by fulfilling with honesty and skill your work in the service of the brothers." "Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ did for the Church." "Are you a parent, grandparent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching children to follow Jesus" (n. 14) And he refers to a "spirituality of work" and "a spirituality of family life" (n. 28), as forms of the common Christian spirituality. The Lord speaks to us," he writes in the last chapter, "in a variety of ways, in the midst of our work, through others, and at all times" (n. 171).

Therefore, these "notes of holiness", although they are for everyone (lay faithful, sacred ministers, members of religious life, etc.) must be seen first of all in the framework of ordinary life, the field of sanctification of the majority of Christians.

The Pope makes an appeal to the urgent need of our culture marked by "nervous and violent anxiety that disperses and weakens us; negativity and sadness; comfortable, consumerist and selfish acedia; individualism, and so many forms of false spirituality without meeting with God that reign in today's religious market" (n. 111), for Christians to present to this culture "great manifestations of love for God and neighbor" (Ibid.).

1. The first group of these "notes" of holiness financial aid, each one of us, to "be centered, firm around God who loves and sustains" (n. 112). It is the trinomial formed by endurance, patience and meekness. From firmness or interior solidity - as fruits of God's grace - it is possible to arrive at the "witness of holiness" and the fidelity of love. In this way, defamations can be avoided - specifically the "networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various forums or spaces of exchange digital" - and lamentations, hasty judgments and pride can be avoided. Humility is not achieved without accepting humiliations, as Jesus did. Most of them are "daily humiliations" that sometimes lead us to be silent and not intervene, and at other times the opposite, all for reasons of prudence, justice and charity.

For this reason, the Pope warns: "It does us no good to look down from above, to put ourselves in the place of merciless judges, to consider others as unworthy and to pretend to give lessons all the time" (n. 117). Francis does not criticize legitimate professional successes, pleasure or temporal goods in themselves, or the social prestige that so often financial aid to bring the family and work forward. The problem is to "seek inner security" there and not in God (cf. n. 121).

2. Francis then underlines joy and good humor as necessary characteristics of the holiness that is especially required of us Christians today. These virtues too can only be attained by "letting the Lord bring us out of our shell and change our lives" (n. 122). Despite the harshness that life often brings for many people, Christian joy is based on the knowledge of being loved by God and manifests itself as "inner security" and "hopeful serenity" (n. 125). The preaching of the prophets and the witness of the saints-especially Mary-teach us that it is not a matter of the consumerist and individualistic joy that is lived in certain present-day experiences, but of the positive and grateful disposition that leads to sharing and rejoicing in the good of others.

3. Thirdly, the Pope refers to boldness and fervor: "Boldness, enthusiasm, speaking freely, apostolic fervor, all these are included in the word parresia, a word with which the Bible also expresses the freedom of an existence that is open, because it is available for God and for others" (n. 129).

This is contrary, therefore, to allowing oneself to be paralyzed by difficulties: comfort and inertia, shyness or shame, fear and calculation, pessimism and taking refuge in the search for security. The God of tenderness wants ours to be a constant and renewed journey. So many people need us, because "beneath the appearance of superficiality and conformity, they are still searching for the answer to the question of the meaning of life" (n. 135).

"God is not afraid", he always goes beyond our schemes and goes ahead of us, making himself present in the hearts of so many who lead a wounded, oppressed and darkened existence. He knocks not only at these doors, but above all at our own, to shake us out of the dullness that prevents us from coming out of ourselves. The saints, in different ways and styles, have been "passionate missionaries, consumed by the enthusiasm to communicate true life" (n. 138). To fight against a "calm and anesthetizing mediocrity", we must renounce to make of the Christian life a "museum of memories". We need to look at history "in the core topic of the risen Jesus" (Ibid.).

4. Holiness is something very staff and at the same time it can only be lived in community. This means that there are no "free" saints, but that all are so in reference letter to the life of the Church. She is holy and at the same time composed of sinners (cf. n. 15). Indeed, the Church is God's family, a family of families. First of all, in Christian families. With the model and the inner strength of the family of Nazareth (Jesus, Mary and Joseph), they are true schools of holiness, virtues and service to others. Parishes, religious communities and other ecclesial groups, movements and institutions should also be schools of holiness. The communitarian dimension of holiness demands to be manifested in small details of attention to people, of service to one another. In this way we can go against the current of that "consumerist individualism which ends up isolating us in the search for well-being without regard for others" (n. 146).

5. Finally, holiness needs prayer, it lives in constant prayer. "The saint is a person with a prayerful spirit, who needs to communicate with God. He is someone who cannot bear to suffocate in the closed immanence of this world, and in the midst of his efforts and dedication he sighs for God, goes out of himself in praise and expands his limits in the contemplation of the Lord. I do not believe in holiness without prayer, even if it does not necessarily involve long moments or intense feelings" (n. 147).

The saint, Francis insists, seeks communication and continuous dialogue with God in the midst of daily life. That is why, when the Christian tradition speaks of seeking the "presence of God" and walking in "contemplation," it is not limited to proposing what can be done inside a temple or a monastery. It is a program for "ordinary Christians" as well. That of "constant prayer" requires reserve some time each day exclusively for dialogue with God: to adore Him, to look at Him and listen to Him without haste, to learn from Him, to allow oneself to fall in love with Jesus and to be enkindled by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Francis' teaching is important: prayer does not lead to escape from the world and history. On the contrary: it leads us to see them with more depth, realism and gratitude to God. Hence the committee: "Look at your history when you pray and in it you will find so much mercy (...) Therefore, it makes sense to ask him to illuminate even the small details of your existence, which do not escape him" (n. 153). And also - the Pope adds - to ask much of God for others. A great thing, because, as Benedict XVI explained in his catechesis, we always pray in union with Jesus and his submission for everyone. That is why praying is the most solidary act in the world. We can help ourselves with the "prayerful reading" of the Sacred Scripture, especially of the Gospels. In this way we prepare ourselves better for communion with Jesus in the Eucharist, which is what sanctifies us most.

At final, holiness is manifested today especially in some virtues that the Pope points out as values that we Christians have incorporated into our lives. This is possible if our search staff for God is framed in the family of God. As Francis preaches, in the Christian perspective there is no God without Christ, no Christ without the Church, no Church without the people.

Today's world needs the holiness of the Christian, lived in the Church, which unites him to Christ, the only and sure way that leads him to the Father. And to walk this path, the Christian absolutely needs prayer.