The document on holiness in the world today was born from the heart of the Pontificate. And the driving element of the entire Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate refers back to the radicalness of the Gospel or, in the alternative, to “a bland and mediocre existence”. A text perhaps unexpected by many and which instead, with undoubtedly personal planning and passages, shows the Pope’s most authentic face. A text in constant reference to Scripture and to the continuity of the Christian Tradition which is often ensured by the witness of women: “our own mothers, grandmothers”, Pope Bergoglio notes, ever attentive to the feminine component of the Church.
The first non-biblical quotation is thus from the homily of Benedict XVI for the beginning of the Pontificate, with a nod to the mysterious and even equally true reality of the communion of saints, thanks to which we are “surrounded, led and guided by the friends of God”. But it is not only a matter of formally proclaimed saints or blesseds, as in the case of the first model of contemporary holiness cited, that of a very young woman, Maria Gabriella Sagheddu, who offered her life for Christian unity. A characteristic of the text, dear to the Pope, is in fact that of emphasizing a holiness that one could define as ‘workaday’, that is, regarding everyday life in the context of Christian community.
It is the everyday existence of the simple and exemplary Church militant that remains hidden in history: “those men and women who work hard to support their families” and “the sick” who are often lonely, as well as the “elderly religious who never lose their smile”; in a single effective expression, that “middle class of holiness” described by French writer Joseph Malègue who had attracted the young Bergoglio. The everyday dimension, however, was already present in the new reality, and thus also in the language, of the very first Christian communities, as appears for example in the the greetings of the Letters of Saint Paul to the Romans and the Corinthians, just 30 years after the preaching of Jesus.
Christ’s preaching is at the root of the papal document, from the title taken from the conclusion of the Beatitudes in the Gospel according to Matthew, and which recalls two other Apostolic Exhortations: the programmatic document of the Pontificate (Evangelii Gaudium) and a nearly forgotten text of Paul VI on Christian joy (Gaudete in Domino). And the Gospel Beatitudes themselves were evoked by the Pontiff, commented on and summarized in an effective series from the Franciscan flavour, from the first (“being poor at heart, this is holiness”) to the eighth (“accepting each day the journey of the Gospel although it may bring us problems, this is holiness”).
Up to the “great protocol” of the Last Judgment described in the 25th Chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, to which Pope Francis has turned many times in these five years. Francis’ teaching is too often mutilated by simplifications and caricatures by the media, often malicious but above all fare removed from reality. A teaching which instead continuously recalls Christian Tradition, as in the last part of this document dedicated to Christian life which is “a constant battle”: against evil and more precisely against the devil, “a terrible reality” on which the Pontiff quotes a little-known text of Paul VI and on which he writes important pages. At the conclusion of an extraordinary and very personal document on the call to holiness in the contemporary world which closes with a touching vision of the motherhood of Mary, Saint among saints.
St. Peter’s Square
Feb. 17, 2019
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