On December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Joseph as patron of the universal church, Pope Francis proclaimed the Year of St. Joseph. To celebrate this historic moment in the universal Church, the Catholic Apostolate Center has launched a series exploring the depth and richness of fatherhood. We will feature one post a month from fathers at different stages of fatherhood, godfathers, spiritual fathers, priests, and grandfathers throughout the year.
We invite you to join us this year in learning more about masculinity, fatherhood, the dignity of labor, and the importance of faithfulness to the will of God. As we continue in our life of faith, we invite St. Joseph to be a father to each one of us, guiding us ever closer to his adopted son, Jesus. May he teach us how to be faithful disciples constantly adoring the face of Christ.
To kick off our fatherhood series, I’d like to share some powerful quotes from Pope Francis’ Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, that will help us more deeply come to know the quiet carpenter who helped raise the Son of God.
1. “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.”
Throughout salvation history, God has repeatedly chosen the least likely of candidates to accomplish his will. Moses was slow of speech. Peter was a fisherman. Paul was a persecutor of the Church. Joseph was a carpenter. What matters not to the Lord is our status in life, our accolades, our prestige, or our mightiness, but simply that we do His will. St. Joseph modeled that in every moment of his life—from accepting Mary into his home, to naming his Son Jesus, from fleeing to Egypt, to returning to Nazareth. St. Joseph, teach us obedience and humility.
2. “The greatness of Saint Joseph is that he was the spouse of Mary and the father of Jesus. In this way, he placed himself, in the words of Saint John Chrysostom, 'at the service of the entire plan of salvation.'”
Joseph was a father in every sense of the word. He guided and protected his family, provided for them, and loved them with tender affection. Everything he did was for the well-being of Mary and Jesus. He is a strong servant leader—one that all men can learn from. To be a father is a great blessing and gift. St. Joseph, help us to be servant leaders.
3. "Saint Paul VI pointed out that Joseph concretely expressed his fatherhood 'by making his life a sacrificial service to the mystery of the incarnation and its redemptive purpose. He employed his legal authority over the Holy Family to devote himself completely to them in his life and work. He turned his human vocation to domestic love into a superhuman oblation of himself, his heart and all his abilities, a love placed at the service of the Messiah who was growing to maturity in his home.'"
Just as faith without works is dead, so too is love devoid of service. St. Joseph did not love solely with his words, but by his actions—which is likely why Scripture does not recount any of his speech—with St. Joseph, there was no need. His entire life was a song of love for the Holy Family and for God. St. Joseph, teach us to love as you loved.
4. "Joseph saw Jesus grow daily 'in wisdom and in years and in divine and human favour' (Lk 2:52). As the Lord had done with Israel, so Joseph did with Jesus: he taught him to walk, taking him by the hand; he was for him like a father who raises an infant to his cheeks, bending down to him and feeding him (cf. Hos 11:3-4)."
So often, we confuse holiness with otherworldliness. Perhaps we imagine celestial music, bright light, and the presence of angels accompanying the saints wherever they went. But to be holy is to be most fully human—at St. Iraneus said, “The glory of God is man most fully alive.” True holiness means living out our vocations fully, and that includes family life. St. Joseph would have fed Christ and eaten with him, he would have helped him get dressed or tied his sandals, he would have played games with him, sang with him, and worked with him. To be holy is not to be out of touch with reality. St. Joseph was not above the normal duties of fatherhood. St. Joseph, teach us to live out our vocations fully by taking Christ by the hand.
5. "Even through Joseph’s fears, God’s will, his history and his plan were at work. Joseph, then, teaches us that faith in God includes believing that he can work even through our fears, our frailties and our weaknesses. He also teaches us that amid the tempests of life, we must never be afraid to let the Lord steer our course. At times, we want to be in complete control, yet God always sees the bigger picture."
A life of holiness does not mean one devoid of fear or suffering. This was true even for Joseph and Mary. What makes Joseph such a model for us is not that he was fearless, but that he trusted in God. He did many things that were difficult and probably not what he had intended for his life, but he trusted and obeyed. He hears the will of God and acts. Later on, Christ himself does not promise a life without the cross, but that He will always remain with us as we carry our crosses. It is when we give God our fears, frailties, and weaknesses that He can transfigure us for His glory. St. Joseph, teach us to trust God.
6. "During the hidden years in Nazareth, Jesus learned at the school of Joseph to do the will of the Father. That will was to be his daily food (cf. Jn 4:34)."
The home of the Holy Family was a domestic church in which virtue flourished and sanctity was cultivated. As the head of the family, Joseph served as a priestly figure and an earthly shadow of God the Father. Joseph would have been a man of Scripture who obeyed God’s commandments and lived a life of authenticity and virtue. How beautiful it is to think that Jesus “learned at the school of Joseph.” St. Joseph, teach us to do the will of the Father.
7. "Just as God told Joseph: 'Son of David, do not be afraid!' (Mt 1:20), so he seems to tell us: 'Do not be afraid!' We need to set aside all anger and disappointment, and to embrace the way things are, even when they do not turn out as we wish. Not with mere resignation but with hope and courage. In this way, we become open to a deeper meaning. Our lives can be miraculously reborn if we find the courage to live them in accordance with the Gospel. It does not matter if everything seems to have gone wrong or some things can no longer be fixed. God can make flowers spring up from stony ground. Even if our heart condemns us, 'God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything'(1 Jn 3:20)."
The words of God to Joseph echo once more for us today: do not be afraid! Fear, stress, and confusion are all normal to the human condition. God is not asking us to erase these feelings from our lives, but to give them over to Him. He is calling us to abandon ourselves to His loving providence and not become imprisoned by these emotions. St. Joseph may have feared for his family’s safety and well-being, but he was not consumed by fear or paralyzed by doubt. Pope Francis calls him, “creatively courageous.” “In the face of difficulty,” he writes, “we can either give up and walk away, or somehow engage with it.” Joseph engaged. St. Joseph, teach us to abandon ourselves to God.
8. "Work is a means of participating in the work of salvation, an opportunity to hasten the coming of the Kingdom, to develop our talents and abilities, and to put them at the service of society and fraternal communion. It becomes an opportunity for the fulfilment not only of oneself, but also of that primary cell of society which is the family."
Work is a part of God’s plan for humanity. What was not part of God’s plan was toil or fruitless labor that does not uphold mankind’s dignity. Prior to the Fall, Adam was called to till and cultivate the land. Christ has redeemed work once again by enabling us to offer all that we do and unite it to His sacrifice on the Cross. Our work can now have immeasurable meaning and be a means of sanctification. Joseph is also known as St. Joseph the Worker. He worked as a carpenter throughout his life and in this way provided for his family. When we work for others, when we work well and faithfully, our work can be a means of building up the Body of Christ and loving or serving one another. St. Joseph, teach us the dignity of human labor.
9. "Fathers are not born, but made. A man does not become a father simply by bringing a child into the world, but by taking up the responsibility to care for that child. Whenever a man accepts responsibility for the life of another, in some way he becomes a father to that person."
Fatherhood is so much more than physical procreation. It involves the cultivation of family and of the human person. It means providing for the spiritual or physical well-being of others. For this reason, priests are also called “Father.” They represent our Heavenly Father and make manifest His graces poured out in the sacraments. They accompany us on our spiritual journeys and act as shepherds guiding us towards holiness. Godfathers, too, play an important role in society by serving as models of holiness for their godchildren and praying and interceding on their behalf. St. Joseph, teach men true masculinity and authentic fatherhood.
10. "The Church too needs fathers."
Not only do families need fathers and stable father figures, the Church and world do as well. Authentic fatherhood is an essential part of God’s plan for humanity and is a part of God’s very identity. Society cannot exist and thrive without healthy and holy fathers. God chose to enter the world through a family and was obedient to his foster father Joseph while under his care. Scripture tells us that he "was obedient to them (Joseph and Mary).” St. Joseph, help raise up strong and loving fathers and father figures in our Church and society.
As we journey together in the Year of St. Joseph, let us pray to this powerful intercessor using the prayer of Pope Francis,
Hail, Guardian of the Redeemer,
Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To you God entrusted his only Son;
in you Mary placed her trust;
with you Christ became man.
Blessed Joseph, to us too,
show yourself a father
and guide us in the path of life.
Obtain for us grace, mercy and courage,
and defend us from every evil. Amen.
It seems that each day we check the news to discover that another politician, producer, actor, or celebrity figure is being exposed for scandal or abuse. Many of those who have for years been hailed as the main influencers of public opinion, policy, and taste have in a stunningly short span of time lost support or credibility. Many of those who were on top of the world have been, we could say, deflated and dethroned.
I have been pondering this lately as the Church prepares to celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord. Each Sunday in the Nicene Creed, we profess Christ’s ascension, “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” The ascension is recounted at the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:6-12). Theologically, we do not envision Jesus ascending like a balloon into the sky, but a king ascending a throne. The Feast of the Ascension celebrates the exaltation and enthronement of Jesus as King and Messiah at the right hand of God the Father in heaven.
As many of us may be scientifically literate and democratically-minded citizens of the twenty-first century, we may think all this talk of thrones and kings and heaven may seem like it belongs to a world that has long passed away. But if our recent headlines have proven anything, what has not passed away is the perennial pursuit of power and our tendency to underestimate our willingness to use it in potentially harmful and self-aggrandizing ways.
Power in and of itself is not an evil thing, and watching people fall publicly is not a cause for celebration. I think instead the present reality invites us to pause and reflect on—in light of God’s reality—the pursuit and exercise of power both in society and in our own lives. In truth, power is not something that belongs only to the powerful. Power exists across any human relationship: husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, boss and employee, and the list is endless. We are influenced vertically by our superiors and horizontally by our peers. Ideally, we work together to achieve the common good and common goals by sharing and exercising power in the right doses and ways. But I think if we’re honest, we all have our own way of being out of balance, tipping the scales. So, what does this all have to do with Jesus, who we call the All-Powerful One?
As exalted King and Messiah, Jesus overthrows the love of power with the power of love. The Ascension is not a power grab that Jesus will use to control people and outcomes. Rather, we hear Jesus tell the disciples that once he has taken his seat on God’s throne, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). As disciples, we are not separated from Christ by a glass ceiling.
Yet as disciples, we have to be careful where and how we exercise this power given to us in the name of Jesus. One of the images in Scripture of the Holy Spirit is fire. It is a great metaphor for power. Our stewardship of God’s power can bring light and warmth, yet it can also burn if used irresponsibly. I suspect today that much of what compromises our evangelizing message of Jesus’s kingship stems from the ways Christians have abused earthly power in the name of God.
The Gospel and St. Paul preach a radically different alternative: the conviction that our human exercise of power more fully manifests Christ when it is surrendered than when it is wielded. So, I propose instead: What happens when we dare to profess Jesus enthroned and exalted, to receive the power of his Holy Spirit, and then lay it down in the service of the Gospel?
Question for Reflection: How is Christ’s example of kingship and power different from what we see in the world?
As we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ at Christmas, I find myself grateful that the Church has established the liturgical calendar in such a way as to help shake us out of our spiritual complacency. The high-points of the Church year—and the larger Christian experience— are referenced so much in our Faith that we may sometimes find ourselves on spiritual autopilot. Before we know it, we might find that solemnities are immediately upon us (or past us), and we feel that we could have benefited from more spiritual preparation. This year, I was looking for a clear and direct theme I could really focus on as Christmas approached. I came across some writings of Venerable Servant of God Fulton Sheen that called to mind certain details of Scripture that my eyes (and spiritual life) might typically gloss over. Recalling the helpless innocence of the Christ-child ready to be born of Mary, Sheen related Mary and Joseph’s plight in searching for late-night shelter in Bethlehem to the lack of hearts open to God which can offer the King of Kings and Lord of Lords a place to dwell and reign:
[W]hen finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last word of time, the saddest lines of all will be: ‘There was no room in the inn.’ The inn was the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world’s moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But there’s no room in the place where the world gathers. The stable is the place for outcasts, the ignored, and the forgotten… The lesson is: divinity is always where you least expect to find it. So the Son of God-Made-Man is invited to enter into His own world through a back door.
With all the seasonal emphasis on gifts and personal generosity, I am especially touched by that first line and the reality that there was no room made available for the arrival of the long-awaited Son of God. How often do we hear calls to be watchful and ready for the Second Coming of Christ; that is, to be repentant of sin and committed to pursuing holiness? This preparation is what the first part of the Advent season is all about. When we are called before the Final Judgement seat of the Most High, and God Himself shows us what we did or did not do for Him in our earthly encounters with the people in our lives, will we say that it was too difficult or inconvenient to take up what we knew was expected of us? All of the baptized are called to be missionary disciples—people who spread the joy of the Gospel by their very lives. We can bring others into an encounter with the Living God—or at least instill a sense of hope, dignity, and love in those who are in need—in the workplace, at home, in our neighborhoods, in our parishes, and within our families. In doing so, we make room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child.
Without Christ present in our hearts and at the core of our being, we will find ourselves serving a different master—be it vices, worldly pleasures, fleeting successes or honors, or other vanities. Just as the innkeepers of Bethlehem two-thousand years ago declined to open their doors to the Holy Family, so too do each of us have the choice either to be seduced by the empty promises of the world or to pursue a life of holiness and of speaking the Truth among the doubtful, suspicious, hateful, or unrepentant.
This Christmas season, let us allow Christ into our lives in order to bring him to others. Let us preach the Gospel with our lives and seek to always make room for him in the inn of our hearts. Christmas is a time for celebration! We rejoice that the Lord God Himself took on human nature and was born as a helpless Child into the world He created in order to free us from sin and death and invite us to live with Him forever. The occasion of Christmas encourages each of us to be a welcoming soul to the Lord rather than one who closed their doors to the Holy Family that holy night:
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And let it begin with me. Amen.
 Sheen, Fulton. “Life of Christ” (1954).
 cf. Matthew 25:40.
The word vocation comes from the Latin “vocare,” which means to be called. Like any call, we are offered a choice to answer or ignore it.
Assisting others in discerning their apostolic vocation in life was an important aspect of the ministry of the Catholic Apostolate Center’s patron, St. Vincent Pallotti. Pallotti had a great belief in apostleship and what the Church today refers to as the “universal call to holiness.” Many years before the Second Vatican Council formally addressed the role of the laity in the Church, Pallotti understood deeply that each member of the Body of Christ plays a significant role in evangelization. This included the active participation of the laity in collaboration with priests and religious. As the Union of the Catholic Apostolate stated in a 2012 reflection, “Saint Vincent Pallotti was the first to show that the laity on their part share different talents and vocations, possess hidden treasures, and should be employed in the work of evangelization, of edification and of sanctification.” All of this work comprises our vocation, and is what I’m referring to when I speak of our vocation with a little “v.” Before we can begin to think about whether God is calling us to religious life, marriage, or the celibate single life (known as our Vocations with a capital “v”), we must first look to live out the calling he gives all of us: holiness.
I was raised outside of the Church. As a result, I wasn’t exposed to our beautiful faith (outside of my baptism) until high school. It wasn’t until three years into my high school career that I began to see religion, which had forever been just a class to me, as being something worth pursuing. Yet in high school, I more deeply came to understand Jesus’ words in Mark 2:17, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." A life of apostleship, which will lead to the better discernment of our Vocation, is not one of perfection, but of accompaniment and relationship building. We accompany others as they live out their vocation. Similarly, we are accompanied, which helps us keep going when we fall. Our vocation is not something that we choose when to live out, but rather it is an essential and fundamental part of our lives as Christians. As baptized members of the faithful, we are called to live out our baptismal offices of priest, prophet, and king.
To live out this call to holiness we must begin with prayer. Prayer, as St. Vincent Pallotti said, “consists in directing all one’s thoughts, words, and actions on God.” In fact, we should pray so much that we “pray without ceasing.” That means that we are living lives that are so full of God, so full of doing his will, that all of our actions, words, and thoughts become a prayer. It can be helpful to remember that prayer is a dialogue. Sometimes we talk and other times we are silent, waiting to hear the voice of God in whichever ways he decides to speak to us.
Secondly, we live out our vocations of holiness by living a life of doing good and avoiding evil. This comes from practicing charity with our neighbors and with ourselves and from opening our hearts to those around us who Pope Francis would say are “at the margins.” Through the living out of our vocation, we help others to encounter Christ. This encounter is at the heart of our faith. As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”
Lastly, we must take part in the sacraments. God’s plan for our salvation is rooted in Christ, whose grace is poured out in all of the sacraments. We should receive the Eucharist, spend time in Adoration, and frequently receive his mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We have been given all of the tools necessary for living lives of holiness. Those tools are strengthened when we receive the sacraments.
So how does living out holiness, our lowercase vocation, pertain to our Vocation? I would argue that living out our Vocation, the call to religious life, priesthood, marriage, or the celibate single life, is one of the highest achievements of living out our vocation. A marriage cannot thrive, for example, without love, hope, mercy, prayer, and kindness. Neither would the ministry of a priest or religious sister.
When we truly see the beauty of the promises of Christ: salvation, freedom, mercy, and redemption, we naturally want to know how best to achieve and share them with others. When we understand our call to holiness, and live out our vocations, uppercase and lowercase “v,” then we will help to become saints and build the Kingdom of God.
For more resources on Vocational Discernment, please click here.
Having experienced the Petrine ministry of Pope Francis for over five years now, it should be of no surprise that the Jesuit former Archbishop of Buenos Aires took the name Francis, the first time that name had been chosen in the 2000+ year history of the Catholic Church. The name was taken for St. Francis of Assisi, a 13th century saint who left behind a life of luxury and wealth to pursue a life lived according to the Gospel. One of the more famous stories tells of St. Francis’ public witness of faith when his own father brought him before the bishop on charges of theft. Francis famously stripped off his clothes and announced that "Pietro Bernardone is no longer my father. From now on I can say with complete freedom, 'Our Father who art in heaven.'"
Much like St. Francis, Pope Francis has also stripped himself of luxurious garments, choosing to present himself in modest, humble clothing that is still fitting to the Papacy. Such action is not solely a living witness of the message of St. Francis, but also the message of Christ who said, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” In Jorge Bergoglio’s ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, his commitment to simple living was made manifest through his actions. He was seen riding a bus with other bishops instead of using his designated private transportation; he cooked his own meals, and he even chose to live in a small apartment outside of the usual bishop’s residence. Pope Francis’ witness teaches us that a simple life does not mean a life lived passively. Simplicity requires action. One must live and act in a way that honors the life of simplicity and humility to which we are called by the Gospels.
In living out the witness of St. Francis and the call of Christ, Pope Francis has also put a great influence on caring for the marginalized—whether migrants, the homeless, or any of those in need. Just recently, Pope Francis surprised Cardinal Konrad Krajewski and around 280 homeless persons at a Vatican dinner where he dined with them for over two hours and listened to their stories. On Holy Thursday 2017, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve inmates at a prison about 45 miles from Rome, to honor Christ who reminded his apostles that “whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.” That teaching is one that should resonate deeply with us. Simplicity does exactly that, it allows us to live in solidarity with those most in need and live lives conformed to Christ.
The lives of Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi provide a witness to a life lived as Christ instructed. We’re not expected to exactly follow the path of St. Francis, as his life is a remarkable one, but, as Mother Teresa said, we can serve by performing small deeds done with great love. Let our Holy Father and St. Francis of Assisi continue to be examples to us in living out or vocations of holiness, and may we always pray for our Holy Father and his ministry.
Questions for Reflection: What are some easy ways that I can live more simply? What luxuries is the Lord calling me to give up?
Everyday Holiness (Part 2): 10 Quotes from Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation to Help You Be Holy in Today's WorldRead Now
On April 9, the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, Pope Francis released his latest Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad): On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World. This is the third Apostolic Exhortation of his papacy, following Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today’s World and Amoris Laetitia, a post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Love in the Family. What was his goal? “To re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities" (GE 2). Without delving too much into a theological or heady definition of holiness, Pope Francis invites us simply and straightforwardly to open ourselves to the specific and unique mission God has created us for. In this, he says, lies true joy and freedom. Our Holy Father takes us back to the Source of Holiness, Jesus Christ, and encourages us to look to the Beatitudes as guides for holiness. Below, I’ve compiled some of my favorite quotes and key take-aways from this approachable, yet profound, exhortation.
1.“A person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.”-GE 37
It is tempting to leave the task of holiness to theologians, the clergy, or those who work for the institutional Church. Here, Pope Francis reminds us that holiness is not all about intellectual knowledge, our ability to quote the latest Church document, or the Catechism. While knowledge of the Faith certainly is important, our holiness is measured by the amount of love with which we infuse all of our actions. I can’t help but think of St. John of the Cross’s quote: “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.
2. “Jesus explained with great simplicity what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23). The Beatitudes are like a Christian’s identity card…In the Beatitudes, we find a portrait of the Master, which we are called to reflect in our daily lives.” -GE 63
I love that Pope Francis ultimately leads us to Scripture and to Jesus Christ Himself as the model and teacher of holiness. It can get overwhelming trying to be holy and define holiness in our modern world. The Beatitudes, Pope Francis says, are like a “Christian’s identity card.” They point us directly to holiness and guide us along the way. Spending time reflecting on each of the Beatitudes will help us to better understand what it means and looks like to be holy.
3. “It is true that the primacy belongs to our relationship with God, but we cannot forget that the ultimate criterion on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for others. Prayer is most precious, for it nourishes a daily commitment to love. Our worship becomes pleasing to God when we devote ourselves to living generously, and allow God’s gift, granted in prayer, to be shown in our concern for our brothers and sisters.” –GE 104
Here, Pope Francis is reminding us that our prayer must lead to action. We cannot be holy in a vacuum, but are called to live out holiness amidst our brothers and sisters. Service to the world, as promoted by Catholic Social Teaching, is crucial if we are to be true followers of Christ. While our relationship with God always comes first, this relationship turns our gaze outward in order to foster and build relationships of love, service, and communion with our brothers and sisters.
4.“Far from being timid, morose, acerbic or melancholy, or putting on a dreary face, the saints are joyful and full of good humour. Though completely realistic, they radiate a positive and hopeful spirit.” -GE 122
Holiness leads to joy – this is the true fruit of our living a holy life. As Christians, we are called to exude the joy of the Resurrection and of the Gospel in the midst of a world plagued by sin, brokenness, and suffering. While holiness is joyful, is does not exist in an alternate reality, but embraces the truth of the world in which we live. Pope Francis says that this holiness is “realistic” and allows us to engage the world while still looking beyond it to the glory of eternal life.
5. “God is eternal newness. He impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded... God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6-8; Jn 1:14). So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there; indeed, he is already there.” –GE 135
The theme of going outside our comfort zone has been one Pope Francis has promoted since the beginning of his papacy. He calls us as Christians and as the Church to wake up, open our doors, and shake the dust off ourselves by imitating God who is “eternal newness.” Holiness, therefore, means being active, bold, and unafraid. It means meeting Christ in the fringes of society and finding him outside the confines of our Church walls.
6.“Let us allow the Lord to rouse us from our torpor, to free us from our inertia. Let us rethink our usual way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be complacent about things as they are, but unsettled by the living and effective word of the risen Lord.” –GE 137
Here, Pope Francis continues to invite the Church to an examination of conscience. Are we doing things out of habit, because we’ve always done something a certain way, or are we open to the promptings and workings of the Holy Spirit as we approach our task of holiness and evangelization? The example and word of Jesus Christ should always “unsettle” us to some degree. We do not achieve perfect holiness at some point in our life and then rest on our haunches! The journey lasts throughout our lifetime.
7.“Are there moments when you place yourself quietly in the Lord’s presence, when you calmly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and tenderness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of others on fire by your words and witness? If, gazing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let yourself be healed and transformed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mercy.” -GE 151
I love this passage from Gaudete et Exsultate. Pope Francis takes on a more reflective tone here and invites us to be prayerful along our journey to holiness. He gets to the heart of holiness by asking us some profound but unavoidable questions. Essentially, he’s asking if we have truly encountered Jesus Christ and his infinite love. This is fundamental to holiness, for our encounter with Christ’s love is what will carry us forward on our journey and sustain us. Take some time to pray with these questions and ask the Lord for a deeper encounter with his love.
8.“For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach. If we become careless, the false promises of evil will easily seduce us.” –GE 162
As with any journey, we will encounter setbacks and temptations as we strive for holiness. Pope Francis devotes a section of his exhortation to the reality of evil and our need to acknowledge it. Pursuing holiness also means engaging in spiritual combat. We not only face our own weaknesses or the sins of others, we also face an actual opponent: the devil. Here, Pope Francis encourages us to count on “the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us.” We are not alone as we face evil, but find our strength in the Church, the sacraments, our brothers and sisters, etc.
9. "Discernment is necessary not only at extraordinary times, when we need to resolve grave problems and make crucial decisions. It is a means of spiritual combat for helping us to follow the Lord more faithfully. We need it at all times, to help us recognize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the promptings of his grace and disregard his invitation to grow." –GE 169
Discernment is a way of life. It means inviting the Lord into our actions and decisions and asking for his guidance as we go about our day. Pope Francis reminds us that discernment is not reserved only for major life decisions such as a move, our vocation, a job opportunity, etc. Discernment should be engrained into our spiritual life and helps to ensure that we are living our lives according to God’s plan rather than our own.
10.“Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all others. She teaches us the way of holiness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fallen and at times she takes us into her arms without judging us. Our converse with her consoles, frees and sanctifies us.” -GE 176
We cannot pursue holiness without looking to the perfect model of human holiness: the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Francis concludes his exhortation by inviting us not only to look to Mary, but to go to her and build a relationship with her. She always guides us closer to her Son. Mary is a gift to us given by Christ himself to journey alongside us on the path to heaven, don’t forget to use her as a resource!
**This is part two of a two-part series of quotes from Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate.
For more information and resources on Gaudete et Exsultate, please click here.
Questions for Reflection: How does Pope Francis challenge your idea of holiness? Do you agree with the Holy Father’s definition? Where do you see holiness being lived out today?
I spent much of my young life unintentionally (and, if I’m being honest, at times intentionally) ignoring the Holy Spirit. I recognized that the Holy Spirit existed, was the third part of the Trinity, and was an important enough part of our faith that we referenced Him every time we made the sign of the cross.
As I grew in both age and maturity, I began to recognize that there were countless places in my life where the Holy Spirit was prompting, guiding, and protecting me; yet I also began to recognize how often I missed it. We live in a world bogged down by noise, pride, and distractions that offer us false freedom.
The reality is that the Holy Spirit is constantly pursuing us. He is pursuing us through our relationships, in our work, and, most especially, in our prayer. The Holy Spirit is breathing life into what we thought to be dead and is equipping us to receive Him as what Jesus promised us— the Advocate. It is the Holy Spirit that encourages us to be bold in speaking truth and compassionate in listening to those that need it most. Most of all, the Holy Spirit is offering us— and calling us to—a life of freedom.
For the Christian, we know that there is true freedom offered to us that the world does not understand. More than anything, God desires for us to first experience the Holy Spirit and subsequently live a life filled with fruits of the Holy Spirit. In a 2014 address, Pope Francis said: “Let yourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit, in freedom; and please, don’t put the Holy Spirit in a cage!”
When we put the Holy Spirit in a cage, we are missing out on the freedom that God wants for us. As men and women seeking to follow God in a world that seems so devoid of Him, may we be found ready to be pursued by the Holy Spirit, ready for a life of true freedom.
Question for Reflection: How do you see the Holy Spirit pursuing you throughout your life up to this point?
I still remember as if it were yesterday. There I was—a junior in high school with my sights set on my then life’s goal of playing college soccer—listening to the doctor tell me the results of the recent X-ray: “You have a stress fracture in your left ankle.” My heart sank, and I immediately focused on the most apparent, inevitable consequence of that injury: I would have to sit out the whole season, meaning I would miss crucial recruiting opportunities. To say the least, I was discouraged as I stood before the rather large and ominous mountain that so suddenly impeded the pursuit of my goal. I instantly began feeling sorry for myself and let anger creep into my heart. Then, in what I now look back upon and gratefully remember as “the moment of mercy,” I heard God’s gentle voice speak to the depths of my heart and tell me, “Carolyn, there’s more to life than soccer.” With my heart pierced by that voice, my desire to play college soccer disappeared. I soon began making decisions that would lead me to the people and places that God had in mind for me to more deeply encounter His mercy and to discover the actual goal of my life.
During my first year of college, the Lord sent a spiritual director into my life who asked me a life-changing question: “Carolyn, what is the goal of your life?” At that time, I couldn’t honestly answer, since I couldn’t yet put into words what the Lord had begun stirring in my heart through the stress fracture event. Yet, over the next few years of college as I continued spiritual direction and developed a more habitual prayer and sacramental life, the Lord began to show me the answer to the question: Communion with God—holiness—is the goal of my life, because Love is the meaning of life.
In a special way during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Church is called to be “a living sign of the Father’s love in the world” (Misericordiae Vultus 4). At the heart of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, we find the Person of God the Father, whose love is both the origin and goal of our life. The Year of Mercy is a special time of grace in the Church, and Jesus invites us to daily re-encounter our Heavenly Father, to be renewed by His love—which alone gives meaning to our life—and to joyfully share the gift of His love with those whom the Lord entrusts to us each day. At a General Audience on December 9, 2015 (the day after the opening of the Year of Mercy), Pope Francis emphasized the purpose of the Jubilee Year:
Turning our gaze to God, our merciful Father, and to our brothers and sisters in need of mercy, means focusing our attention on the essential contents of the Gospel: Jesus, Mercy made flesh, who renders the great mystery of the Trinitary Love of God visible to our eyes. Celebrating a Jubilee of Mercy is equivalent to placing once again the specific nature of the Christian faith, namely Jesus Christ, the merciful God, at the center of our personal life and that of our communities.
In other words, Pope Francis is saying that the invitation during this Jubilee Year of Mercy is to “return to the basics” of our faith: to enter more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which is “the central mystery of Christian faith and life” (CCC 234). In fact, Pope Francis begins his letter for the Jubilee Year with words which aim to “sum up the mystery of the Christian faith”, namely, that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus 1). Jesus’ whole earthly mission was to reveal the truth about God’s inner life of love and man’s vocation to that love that originates from the Father’s heart (John 17:3; CCC 514-518). This is why Jesus tells Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). Everything Jesus says and does reveals the Father (CCC 516) and aims at “restoring fallen man to his original vocation” (CCC 518) of love.
Thus, the Jubilee Year of Mercy is a special moment of grace to daily re-orient the gaze of our hearts towards the merciful gaze of the Father that tenderly awaits us. This gentle and loving gaze of the Father reveals the love that alone is the origin, goal, and meaning of our life. As Pope Saint John Paul II says, “Man and man’s lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love” (Dives in misericordia 1). May we live this Jubilee Year by creating the space in our daily lives—particularly through prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments—to encounter Jesus and to let our merciful Father love us. We ask Mary, Mother of Mercy, to help us open our hearts and be more receptive to the Father’s love. May we give her permission to use us as instruments of God’s mercy in the lives of others so that we can share the gift of His love with those whom God entrusts to us.
Reflecting on the Scripture readings for today, February 5th, my mind wandered to the brilliance of the Letter to the Hebrews. We read Chapter 12 verses 18-19, 21-24 with the rich imagery of approaching the “city of the living God” that is the “heavenly Jerusalem” that contains such images as “countless angels in festal gathering” and “the sprinkled Blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel”. These phrases ignite a feeling of grandeur and magnificence! The passage describes an eternal gathering that should not be feared, but embraced.
We have been reading from Hebrews throughout Ordinary Time and will soon begin the Lenten Season. The author of Hebrews, who scholars say was a Hellenistic Jewish-Christian familiar with Platonic philosophy, inspires me. There is much to be said about the background and context of the letter. I would like to reflect on one phrase from Hebrews 12:1-4 that constantly returns to because it is quite an eternal gathering. The words, “so we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” show how to grow in holiness through the example of Christ.
My imagination darts to the scene of all saints gathered together, surrounded in golden light with haloes on their heads. The saints are the witnesses who envelop the throne of God and embrace Jesus’ example of faith. They have run the race of life while keeping their eyes fixed on Christ. The Catechism explains that all the faithful form one body, whose head is Christ. The good of each of the faithful is communicated to the others as a communion of persons (CCC 947). The picture is a reminder of our work together to reach the heavenly Jerusalem and building the Kingdom of God on earth. "Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state - though each in his own way - are called by the Lord to that perfection of sanctity by which the Father himself is perfect" (CCC 825, cf. 296). We can join the cloud of witnesses!
The image of the communion of saints reminded me of the book, Cloud of Witnesses, edited by Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday. It is a collection of the stories of modern-day saints and their influence on faith and work for justice. The collection includes Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and Oscar Romero. These people are testaments to the faith along with countless others. They characterize the words in Hebrews 12, “For the sake of the joy that lay before him Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.” Enduring criticism, injustice, suffering and loss, these witnesses were confident that they would discover the joy of the “city of the living God.” Although we are not celebrating the feast of All Saints’ Day, we can be reminded of the stories of the saints and how they ran the race. Lent is a race in itself to the tomb of Christ, in hope that he will rise and we will be renewed!
Matthew Kelly provides encouraging words for this Lent that will aid in your race as a witness of Christ and “saint-to-be.” He proposes that you have your “Best Lent Ever” with his daily reminders and reflections that go beyond giving up chocolate and sweets. We are a part of that cloud, aiming to become closer to Jesus in our sacrifices during Lent. As we approach Lent, how are we witnesses to what we believe in? How are we witnesses even if our lives don’t reflect the life that we imagine for ourselves? I invite you to check out this plan and see if it is the right fit for your 40 days!
After touching on the description of this beautiful cloud in Hebrews and expanded on later in chapter 12 today, I would like to close with the message of remembering the little things. Remembering to be kind to a stranger or stick around for a conversation instead of heading home, taking a walk for 30 minutes and sitting in silence in a chapel, will help brighten your light like the haloes of the saints. By being intentional with your presence and time you are becoming your best self! We are witnesses of Jesus and his work simply because we embrace him. The little things are what build the grandeur and magnificence of the heavenly Jerusalem. Keep smiling as you run the race!
Sophie Jacobucci is a 2014 graduate of the Echo Program at the University of Notre Dame currently living in Denver, CO.