Pope Francis has released his latest apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). The title comes from the Beatitudes in Matthew’s Gospel, specifically, Jesus’ exhortation to rejoice when people “insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” (5:11)
Gaudete et Exsultate is a meditation on the call to holiness in everyday life. (The word holiness appears 87 times.) Francis points to the “saints next door,” who quietly persevere in their holiness, because their lives have become so closely united with Christ. In an extended meditation on the Beatitudes, Francis describes them as God’s invitations to deepen our capacity to love. We become happy—and holy—to the extent that we “go against the flow” of many of the world’s values, choosing instead:
- to be poor of heart;
- to share in others’ mourning;
- to react to others with meekness and humility;
- to hunger and thirst for righteousness;
- to see and act with mercy;
- to vigilantly keep our hearts free to love;
- to sow peace around us;
- and to keep the Gospel with us always, even in the face of persecution.
The exhortation is an extended meditation on Ignatian discernment (the word appears 17 times) and particularly on the call to reach out to others. The Pope calls Matthew 25, the call to serve others as Christ himself, “the great criterion.” He writes:
If we seek the holiness pleasing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear criterion on which we will be judged. “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” (95)
He recalls the words of St. John Paul II: “‘If we truly start out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified.’” (96)
For Francis, as for his predecessors, the call to discernment is always a call to self-knowledge that spills over into a commitment of one’s life for the care of those whom Christ loved. In our prayer this week, perhaps we might ask God, then, to help us “rejoice and be glad” in the call to serve those easily forgotten: the unborn, the migrant, the elderly, the destitute, the victims of trafficking, and so many others. May we allow God’s grace to enlarge our hearts in order that we might find happiness and holiness.