In March Pope Francis gave us the document Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). Throughout the text, Francis masterfully fashions “the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time” (2).
My favorite part of the document conveys the dynamism and discipline involved in the Christian life. While it is certainly not exhaustive, Francis offers a reflection on the Signs of holiness in Today’s World, in the form of “five great expressions of love for God and neighbor” (111).
The first is “Perseverance, Patience and Meekness.” Perseverance allows us to remain in the peaceful presence of God in turbulent seasons of life and in the business of daily life. This grounds our capacity for patience as we accompany those around us as they encounter their own struggles. Meekness of heart is not about being rolled over; it is a steady posture of tranquility that governs daily activity. This all helps us guard against falling “into the temptation of looking for security in success, vain pleasures, possessions, power over others or social status” (121).
The second is “Joy and a Sense of Humor.” While joy is often conflated with being happy, joy transcends circumstances that may negate one’s happiness. “Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shadows, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy” whose inertia is carried forth by God’s unwavering nearness (125). This joy is connected to a sense of humor. While “ill humor is no sign of holiness” (126), the humor that flows from joy rejoices in the good of others, and is quickened by the lightness of heart in intimate communion with God and neighbor.
The third is “Boldness and Passion.” This boldness is incompatible with complacency, apathy and preserving false securities we have constructed. It touches every area of life — work, friendships, study, leisure, worship and liturgy. Francis encourages us “to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories” (139). While memories are worth having, we cannot dwell in them. “The saints surprise us, they confound us, because by their lives they urge us to abandon a dull and dreary mediocrity” (138). The term mediocre comes from the Latin idea for having gone only halfway up the mountain. Such is not the life we are called to by “the God of tenderness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey” (134).
The fourth sign of holiness is to live “In Comm unity.” The individualistic tendencies of society work not for our flourishing, but erode its foundation. We must reject as false the “growing consumerist individualism that tends to isolate us in a quest for well-being apart from others” (146). In order to achieve healthy community at any level, Francis observes that we must attend to the little details of daily love. A community that makes present the emphasis on the little things “is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanctifying it in accordance with the Father’s plan” (145). Since God’s Trinitarian nature is one of community between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we shouldn’t be surprised that God’s own creation is made for community as well.
The fifth is “In Constant Prayer.” This should not be used “as a form of escape and rejection of the world around us” (152). Rather, prayer is intentionally being with the God who longs for us to be joyful. “For each disciple, it is essential to spend time with the Master, to listen to his words, and to learn from him always” (150). Francis says that the prayer doesn’t have to be long or overly emotional, but it is essential for the life of holiness.
The life of holiness, the life of virtue, is like a symphony — all must be playing their part in the right way at the right time. Holiness is doing all these things simultaneously, for each brings the other into proper balance. Boldness without meekness is foolhardy, prayer without community is isolating, and perseverance without joy is wearisome. Far from a static, bland sense of holiness, we are being called into a challenging, full and dynamic life of holiness — a holiness of “radiant interior freedom” (69).
(Editor’s note: Patrick Schmadeke, 27, is a graduate of St. Ambrose University (‘13) and a student in the Master of Divinity program at the University of Notre Dame. His column offers reflections on his coursework, engaging with the richness of the Catholic tradition and its relevance to the world today.)