Pope Francis' "Gaudete et Exsultate": A Reflection

Author: Archbishop Kevin McDonald

Picture: Ioswl/Flickr

Pope Francis' "Gaudete et Exsultate": A Reflection

Pope Francis is calling people to boldness, rejoicing and humility in recent exhortation "Gaudete et Exsultate", says Archbishop Kevin Mcdonald.

This exhortation contains a wealth of ideas, advice and nourishment for anyone concerned about prayer and the meaning of holiness.

Pope Francis says, at the outset, that the story of holiness is the vital but hidden history of our world. The document is a clarion call to Catholics to be part of that story.

He begins by warning about ideas and ways of thinking that are not part of that story and explores these under the rather formidable headings of Gnosticism and Pelagianism.

He says the life of holiness cannot be reduced to any one particular spirituality or scheme or model  - nor can we impose our own vision on others: “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises.”

Likewise our spiritual life, although it is a task for life, is not something we are in full control of or that can be pursued in our own strength. Everything good that happens is the fruit of God’s grace.

Our job is simply to cooperate in a life of “progressive transformation.”

Concern For Every Form of Rejection

Holiness is not self-serving.

It must bear fruit in action and Francis uses the Beatitudes to explore holiness in practice. It must issue in concern for the excluded and those who suffer  - migrants and victims of modern day slavery are mentioned in particular.

He clearly does not want the Church to be identified only with certain kinds of moral and social issues, but rather to be concerned about ”every form of rejection.”

Considering “signs of holiness in today’s world”, he again looks at things which undermine holiness and refers to the terrible aggression found in the media - both religious and secular- and on internet platforms.

In contrast to the dynamic of anxiety and hidden violence that underpins all this, he presents a dynamic of humility and joy.

Two quotes taken together give us a flavour of this: “Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations” and “If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as St Paul tells us: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice’."

Leave a Mark on This World

He also refers to the self-serving nature of consumerism and individualism: "We need the Spirit’s prompting, lest we be paralyzed by fear and excessive caution, lest we grow used to keeping within safe bounds.”

It is in this context that he speaks about “parrhesia”, a New Testament term which means ”boldness, an impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark on this world."

All this must be rooted in “a habitual openness to the transcendent, expressed in prayer and adoration.”

It is significant that the writers he draws on to explain evangelisation include St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila.

Confidence, Serenity and Common Sense

Towards the end, he talks about “discernment”, stating that, when it comes to spirituality, there is no “one size fits all.”

Earlier in the document he warned against trying to “supervise” the spiritual lives of other people.

The purpose of discernment is to seek” a glimpse of that unique and mysterious plan that God has for each one of us, which takes shape in so many varied situations and limitations.”

This whole document is shot through with confidence, serenity and common sense. It is also particularly timely.

The situation in our country and our world is dark and threatening. Confidence in world leaders is at an all-time low.

In that context, Francis’ call to holiness sounds a different note and one that, although played in the first instance for the Catholic community, could resonate well beyond it.

  • Kevin McDonald is the Archbishop Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark.

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