By Father Troy Richmond
In his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate” (Rejoice and be Glad), Pope Francis reminds us of our most basic vocation, our call to holiness. It is a document worth reading, and I would like to highlight just a few insights offered in this timely exhortation.
The call to holiness is for everyone. The temptation is to think that holiness is only for a select few; for priests, religious and those who have time to devote to prayer. The truth is, however, that holiness is rooted in our baptismal call. On the day we were baptized, these words were spoken over us, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”
Through the sacrament of baptism, we receive a new dignity, the dignity of a child of God who, with each passing day, is called to become more like Christ. Becoming holy does not require that we work grandiose miracles or do something quite extraordinary. Rather, holiness is rooted in simple, humble gestures that seek to share with others the love of God. Whether telling a joke to someone who is disheartened, smiling at a stranger or being patient and kind while waiting in a long line, these are all small acts of love that show to others the face of Christ.
All are called to holiness; we are not alone along the journey. In fact, Pope Francis reminds us that, in many cases, entire communities have been canonized for their witness of holiness. We think of the many martyrs who, with their companions, paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel. Consider the 25 Mexican saints and martyrs who died for the faith as part of the Cristero war or, more recently, the Trappists in Tibhirine, Algeria, who prepared to shed their blood as martyrs for the sake of Christ. These believers relied on one another for the strength to witness, in the most powerful way, to their holiness and steadfast faith in the Lord.
Finally, the pope reminds us that holiness is not just about doing something; it is more about loving someone. We can do many great things for the Lord. Yet, if our work is not rooted in a deep love for the Lord, it will be done in vain. Therefore, prayer is necessary for us if we are to grow in holiness. By making time, every day, for a loving dialogue with the Lord, we will allow ourselves to fall more deeply in love with Christ, the one whose love spurs us on our quest for holiness.
Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, “Rejoice and be Glad,” reminds us that holiness is attainable if we remember who we are, baptized and beloved sons and daughters of God. We are not on this journey alone. With the support and encouragement of fellow brothers and sisters along the way, we can rejoice and be glad, for our reward will be great in heaven!
(Father Troy Richmond is pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine and St. Joseph Parish in Columbus Junction.)