“We need SAINTS: we have to be true ones. The world needs that!” Father Henri Roy wrote this in a letter dated January 20th 1962.
Since the beginning of the Pius X Secular Institute, Father Roy had but one desire for the consecrated and associate members of his apostolic Family: that all may advance on the road of holiness. In the first lines of the Constitution, it is written in black and white that the Pius X Secular Institute’s general goal “is the sanctification of its members” (art. 1). Even more so, by the promise of apostolic commitment, the members “resolve to seek holiness, not just through concern for our own spiritual progress, but also by working for the sanctification and salvation of others” (art. 22).
Reading the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate, I told myself it had been quite a while since a spiritual leader had taken the time to remind us of the importance of holiness. And it’s not just nothing; it’s the ultimate goal of all Christian life! As I read this document, I was moved more than once, as if these lines rekindled a fire in my heart. And the words of Catherine of Sienna came back to me: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!” Is that not our deepest call?
The Call to Holiness
In the Exhortation’s first chapter, Pope Francis reminds us that holiness is the call for everyone. It is “the most attractive face of the Church” (GE. 9). Even though we are sinners, we are called to go forth, step by step, on this road to holiness. In the most ordinary gestures, in the darkest nights, in the humblest of persons, holiness can be found “in our next-door neighbours” (GE, 7).
“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. Are you called to the consecrated life? Be holy by living out your commitment with joy. Are you married? Be holy by loving and caring for your husband or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a living? Be holy by labouring with integrity and skill in the service of your brothers and sisters. Are you a parent or grandparent? Be holy by patiently teaching the little ones how to follow Jesus. Are you in a position of authority? Be holy by working for the common good and renouncing personal gain” (GE, 14).
Reading these lines, we see how this call to holiness is practical. It touches the ordinary life and is realized in the concrete situations of everyday life. Furthermore, we could almost say that these lines were written for secular institute members. The different guidelines proposed by Pope Francis are exactly those that every member is called to live out in the secular consecrated life.
For “each saint is a mission” (GE, 19). The love project the Father wants to realize through our life is inscribed in our history and is accomplished when we reproduce Christ’s traits in all our being. Thus, what we are and what we do allow us to “renew all things in Christ”. Therefore, “life does not have a mission, but is a mission” (GE. 27).
Two Subtle Enemies of Holiness
Pope Francis then presents two false forms of holiness: gnosticism and pelagianism.
“Gnosticism is one of the most sinister ideologies because, while unduly exalting knowledge or a specific experience, it considers its own vision of reality to be perfect” (GE, 40). Our God is the God of surprises. He can make Himself present in life where we less (replace less with least) expect Him…
He can be present in the lives of people we would think to be “outside of God” for they do not answer to the “right criteria”… He can be present in the openness to a different way of thinking from ours… God reveals Himself everywhere. Pope John Paul II, in number 38 of Vita Consecrata, reminded us that, rightly so, holiness invites us to keep an open heart so as to not seem “somehow superior to other members of the faithful”. Definitely, a great openness to mercy opens us to true wisdom so as to discern the holiness that springs forth in every person.
Pelagianism, for its part, believes that it is possible to choose good and live without sin counting on our personal efforts. Everything would therefore depend on us… But holiness is above all a question of grace; everything is grace! It is therefore impossible to think that by our efforts and our will we will finally reach holiness.
“The Church has repeatedly taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the initiative” (GE, 52). Our answer to the call to holiness is simply to collaborate with the grace that God gives. For without His grace, it’s impossible to advance on the road to holiness. Saint Therese of Lisieux was quite right when she invited us to present ourselves empty-handed before God… for no doubt He wants to give us much more in the graces of holiness than what our poor efforts with our will could acquire.
The Beatitudes: Learning from the Master
In chapter three, Pope Francis summarizes Jesus' teaching on the Beatitudes admirably. With this Christian "identity card", the Pope invites us to make of the Beatitudes a lifestyle for the saints of the 3rd millenial.
This beautiful meditation on each of the eight beatitudes places us once again at the heart of the Gospel. Holiness is therefore much more than a word! It is inscribed in our daily life with concrete gestures and attitudes: inner freedom, meekness, compassion, justice, forgiveness, vigilance, discretion, hospitality and solidarity. “That is holiness!” (GE, 70) becomes a cry that touches the heart.
But the beatitudes cannot just be a spiritual leitmotiv. They are a commitment to transform the world. Pope Francis takes up chapter 25 from Matthew’s Gospel to invite us to a true and concrete commitment. These “demands” become “the beating heart of the Gospel” (GE, 97). He presents in a more specific manner the situation of the poor and the migrants, exhorting all people of good will to commit themselves in a concrete manner to relieve the suffering of our most abandoned brothers and sisters. “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).
Signs of Holiness in Today’s World
Pope Francis then presents “five great expressions of love for God and neighbour” (GE, 111). The first one is perseverance, patience and meekness. Uniting these three words, the Pope invites us to receive a grace of inner strength to battle against violence present in our world. Too often, violence is not just exterior to us in great conflicts. It is there, insidious and cunning, in the depths of our being, ready to spring at the most unexpected moment. It is there, all around us, in the real and virtual world, influencing us and pushing us to react to everything. It is there… and the remedy proposed through perseverance, patience and meekness can be summed up in one word: humility.
The second sign of holiness is joy and a sense of humour. Father Roy would often repeat this saying from Saint Francis of Sales: “A saint who is sad is a sad saint indeed.” The Pope, whom we often see smiling, laughing out loud, able to tell jokes, is a witness by his joy and sense of humour. The Word of God constantly challenges us to be men and women of profound joy.
Boldness and passion are the third sign of holiness proposed by Pope Francis. “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” proclaims Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (9:16). Each one of us would like to repeat those words. Alas, our weakness, our incoherence and our fears, many times have taken the best of us. But Jesus Christ is much greater! It is He who gives this inner strength, this fire and apostolic zeal so that the Good News can be proclaimed with boldness and courage. It is He who invites us to go to the fringes to encounter Him in our wounded and broken brothers and sisters. “Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hesitate when the Spirit calls us to take a step forward. Let us ask for the apostolic courage to share the Gospel with others” (GE, 139).
Community is the fourth sign of holiness for “growth in holiness is a journey in community” (GE, 141). It is in the small details of living together that holiness comes to be. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel: “If you have love for one another…”(Jn 13:25). And if we could continue paraphrasing “… then everyone will know that your are my saints.” Maybe then the community would become the place where holiness grows and expresses itself.
“I do not believe in holiness without prayer”, writes Pope Francis in Gaudete et Exsultate
in numeral 147. This last sign of holiness is not the least. It is in the silence of prayer that God reveals to us the road to holiness. In this contemplation, it is God Himself who transforms our heart and our life to be a bit more like Him, a bit more in His manner.
Spiritual Combat, Vigilance and Discernment
The Exhortation ends with the last chapter that reminds us that “the Christian life is a constant battle” (GE, 158). For holiness is not a goal to attain, it is a road to travel! “Those who choose to remain neutral, who are satisfied with little, who renounce the ideal of giving themselves generously to the Lord, will never hold out” (GE, 163). For God invites us to always go further in love and in holiness.
As a good Jesuit, Pope Francis reminds the readers of the importance of discernment as “a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully” (GE, 169).
Discernment reveals to us the times and the actions of God in our life, so as to adjust our answer by listening to the One who is love and by listening to others. It is often in the ordinariness of life that God reveals Himself, in the simple things of everyday life. In the examination of conscience, grace will be given to us for an “authentic process of leaving ourselves behind in order to approach the mystery of God, who helps us to carry out the mission to which he has called us, for the good of our brothers and sisters” (GE, 175).
Strangely enough, this exhortation has no great conclusion…except for two small paragraphs. But perhaps there is hidden message: holiness is never concluded! Pope Francis had the custom of ending his texts with a prayer; Gaudete et Exsultate is an exception. “All we need do is whisper, time and time again: “Hail Mary”…” (GE, 176).
It is clear that our founder, Father Roy, would have welcomed with great joy this new Apostolic Exhoration, Gaudete et Exsultate, on the call to holiness in today’s world! May this new document resonate as a call to rediscover the desire of holiness in the hearts of all the members and friends of the Pius X Secular Institute.
Father Marcel Caron