The source and end of spiritual life
Catechesis on Holiness - Week 5
Holiness: A Gift for all
"The powerful witness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beatitudes and the criterion of the final judgement. Jesus’ words are few and straightforward, yet practical and valid for everyone, for Christianity is meant above all to be put into practice. It can also be an object of study and reflection, but only to help us better live the Gospel in our daily lives". (GE 109)
The Apostolic exhortation Gaudete et exultate (GE) on the "call to holiness in the contemporary world" is therefore not reserved for a few but it is a way for all. Not a treatise on Holiness, but a description of it. It is the urgency of a return to essentiality, to what matters in order to live fully from men and true Christians in the present historical context: The Saints are people who for the love of God in their lives have not placed conditions on God.
The invitation to joy with which the exhortation begins is the conclusion of the Beatitudes of the Gospel of Matthew, in which Jesus invites the disciples to rejoice also in the persecutions suffered because of the gospel. More than appearing out of place, the indication of Pope Francis wants to indicate to us the heart, the most secret part of the journey towards Holiness, and also, that this call to live holiness and, consequently to live the gospel, takes place, becomes, is realized in the history and one It combines in every step.
The Gospel, the joyful News of God, is this long history of encounters in which the Word chooses to become language understandable to men, capable of communicating to the human way the depth of the heart of God through a long history of passages, of coming, of invitations and answers. The Gospel is not a theory that applies, but a life that you live. The Word of God lives in history and in history becomes a narrative. It is the story of the God with us, the story of Jesus through which we discover that this Word, which was from the beginning, shares the tiring journey of man, stage after stage, moment after moment, until death, until the life that no longer dies.
I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”.
When Pope Francis points to “the middle class of holiness”, he is not telling us that there are saints of A and B series, as if some of the saints, especially those most known or who have had amazing experiences of God, precede in ranking than others who may be reported less or were less fortunate to be seen. God and the Gospel are told and told by living the history of every day, just as it is, so it happens and becomes.
Pope Francis warns of a temptation or danger: To think that you are only saints if you are special and if you do extraordinary things or who knows what miracles. Holiness is instead the manifestation of a life lived, in every state, and in the everyday, in the light of the Gospel.
“Each saint is a mission, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a specific moment in history, a certain aspect of the Gospel. That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing, in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life: his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love. The contemplation of these mysteries, as Saint Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes”. (GE 19-20)
What does it mean to be "Gospel" in the midst, among the people we meet or where we are?
We are all called to be holy by living our lives with love and by bearing witness in everything we do, wherever we find ourselves … Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness … Let us be spurred on by the signs of holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest members of that people which “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office, spreading abroad a living witness to him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity.” (GE 8.14.15)
To live the Gospel is to accept the dynamism of the grace that precedes us: we cannot remain strangers to the path, to the labours, to the struggles of the brethren, but to allow each one to give its best rather than the worst. The life of grace is precisely this profound dynamism of communion that makes us holy while with our lives we try to make others holy. We have to acquire that ability to descend from the pedestal and share the battle field… . It is not enough to be different or counter current or alternative… . You have to be willing to pay in person… .To suffer and pity… . And that makes all the difference! “I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugar! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds… . And you have to start from the ground up”. (La Civiltà cattolica, interview with Pope Francis by Antonio Spadaro)
The risen one is the crucified whose wounds can be touched; The risen is the power of life born of death. Only Easter gives sense and meaning to dying or giving life: the resurrection does not just mean that Jesus is alive among us, but also and above all that from Easter onwards there is no "sepulchre", limits, weaknesses, fragility, inconsistency, sin or death that can or prevent us from the possibility of communion with God. Paraphrasing Don Tonino Bello, Saint and Prophet of our times, we can say that in a world bound and subjected to the different powers (economic, political, social or tied to prestige and personal success and even religious in some ways), we must move from the signs of power to the power of signs: the only power that Christianity, and consequently holiness, has is the power to give life.
This, as Pope Francis suggests, is to live the mystical encounter, "the ability to hear, to listen to other people. The ability to search the way together, the method, letting us enlighten by the relationship of love that passes between the three Divine people as a model of any interpersonal relationship”.
To live the mystic of the encounter the exhortation reminds us that “The common life, whether in the family, the parish, the religious community or any other, is made up of small everyday things… A community that cherishes the little details of love, whose members care for one another and create an open and evangelizing environment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan”. Living the encounter means promoting life, bringing forth beauty in everything we do and what we are; It means wrapping of tenderness our relationships, our encounters, our glances; It means grasping the importance that hides in the complexity of our existences.
In a world made up of proclaims and clichés, bandied to gain success or gain benefits, listening opens us to the mystery of the other simply because other; Listening lets the other show, reveals and opens the door of astonishment, wonder; Listening gives the other the possibility to be "different" from what we thought it was.
"Christianity, writes the pope, is a practical religion: it is not to think of it, it is to practise it, to make it". For Francis, a holy life is not simply a virtuous life, in the sense that it seeks to implement the virtues in general. The Beatitudes constitute the concrete life of Jesus and his program that must be followed, best practiced. Holiness in fact, it is not simply to become all the better and good. Pope Francis wants to present a perfectly evangelical holiness, "sine Glossa" and without apology. Living Holiness has its own needs: it actually involves living life in the spirit. It is such, because it knows how to grasp the action of the Holy Spirit and its movements, and follows them, living the Gospel. “Sine glossa without any “ifs or buts” that could lessen their force”. (GE 97)
It resonates for us as an invitation to "not be afraid of the novelty that the Holy Spirit makes in us, not to be afraid to be daring men and women because we are. It invites us to realize that “a great cloud of witnesses” impels us to advance constantly towards the goal. (GE 3)
Sr. M. Amelia Grilli (Roma - Monte Mario)
12 March, 2019