Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad)

The latest Apostolic Exhortation from Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, is about the call to holiness in the world today. Pope Francis released it on Monday 9 April, the feast of the Annunciation and it was given on the Feast of St. Joseph. The document is broken into five chapters.

It begins with Pope Francis stating that this isn’t a treatise or discussion on holiness but rather is to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time”. God has called us from the beginning to be holy, God told Abraham to “Walk before me, and be blameless” (Gen 17:1) and this call continues for us today as Francis points out that God wants us all to be saints and echoes the words of John Paul II “Don’t settle for mediocrity”.

The first chapter is on The Call to Holiness, it begins with acknowledging all the holy men and women from the Abraham and Moses to even those of our dearly departed family and friends who are apart of as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it “cloud of witnesses”. Sure these individuals may not always have been perfect in their lives, but despite their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord. One of the key things here is that love is what connects the saints to us. The processes of beatification and canonization recognize the signs of heroic virtue, the sacrifice of one’s life in martyrdom, and in certain cases where a life is constantly offered for others, even until death. This Imitation of Christ is what singles out individuals, but it’s not only those Saints who’ve been beatified/canonized but also our neighbors, since throughout Salvation History the Lord has never saved an individual but rather taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in a human community. This “middle class of holiness” is where most of us live our lives as Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) wrote “The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.” Now holiness isn’t just limited to the Catholic Church the Holy Spirit raises up individual from all backgrounds Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Protestants Pope John Paul II points to these martyrs as a shared heritage.

Now, Francis says that this is well and good but his primary focus is going to be on the individual call to holiness. In Lumen Gentium we read that we are “called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”. So we shouldn’t get frustrated by others who seems “more holier” for the “important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts, rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them.” We are all called as witnesses and there are many ways to do this. John of the Cross, famous mystic,  preferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all since God’s life is communicated “to some in one way and to others in another.” Francis notes of the genius of women and list a bunch of saints from Hildegarde  and Bridget to Teresa and Theresa. He also notes that there are perhaps several unknown and forgotten who were great imitators of Christ.

For many it seem like you need to be a priest, bishops religious to be holy “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.” Holiness can grow with just small gestures like limiting gossip, being patient, taking out and praying a rosary faithfully, or turning to someone on the street and offering some kind words to them.  At times life can get complicated like when Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân, the Archbishop of Saigon, who was imprisoned for 13 year in a communist reeducation camp and then exiled, who strove to accomplish ordinary actions in an extraordinary way. The Bishops of New Zealand teach that we can do this even with love, we are capable of loving with the Lord’s unconditional love even in the midst of our weaknesses. As Pope Benedict XVI taught us “holiness is nothing other than charity (love) lived to the full.” Then Pope Francis calls on us to allow the Spirit to forge in you the personal mystery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.

Francis says that there are a bunch of distractions in the world today but we are all called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission. He continues by saying to not be afraid of holiness. It will take away none of your energy, vitality or joy. Holiness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weakness and the power of God’s grace. The first chapter ends with a quote from a French writer Leon Bloy “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint” which sort of sums up this universal call to holiness.

The second chapter begins with some talk of some problems that have existed from the beginning of the church and continue today  Gnosticism and Pelagianism. Those two heresies are still around, i guess. Gnosticism is looking for knowledge or experience that solves the mysteries. Those educated members of the church shouldn’t be superior to other members of the church for we all are basically on the same journey. The Lord works in mysterious ways and having knowledge should just motivate us to respond more fully to the love of God. Pelagianism is that sin does not taint human nature and that will is still capable of deciding between good and evil. The Church has continually taught that we are justified not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord. We are reminded of the greatest commandment love your neighbor as yourself

The third chapter is where Pope Francis looks at how are we supposed to be holy and what consists holiness. This can be seen in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) where the Beatitudes were given, these are the identity card for all Christians as we are called to reflect these values in our daily lives. Next Francis goes through all the Beatitudes and breaks them down pointing out that they run counter to the way the world works. Jesus later on in Matthew’s Gospel expand on the Beatitudes in the twenty fifth chapter adding that “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (25: 35-36), these are the Corporal works of Mercy. Now this call is to recognize Jesus in the poor and the suffering, for we are called to except all  without the ifs or buts and holiness can not exist with out this demand for the beating heart of the Gospel is mercy.

Now there are two errors which Francis sees. First those Christians who forget the mercy part of the gospels. Christanity isn’t some NGO far from the lives of the Saints (Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa) who lived their lives full of mercy yet still reflected on the scriptures and prayer. The other problem is relativistic way that many people look at the world today where nothing is good or bad until I choose who my neighbor is or how to do it. Francis tells us about the Rule of St. Benedict where the monks would welcome anyone and everyone like they would welcome Christ, special care was given to the poor and pilgrims as well.  Let us all keep this in mind whenever we meet anyone. Finally we turn to worship and prayer first of all we do this not for God but ourselves and our neighbors. Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta eloquently put it “…God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his compassion in the world; he bears our sins, our troubles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too concerned with ourselves, we will have no time left for others. ” I hope that we are all able to follow the advice given by Pope Francis to re-read the Gospel referenced earlier, the Beatitudes and Last Judgement, since they can be a benefit to all of us as we all try to embody them. For it will make us happy.

The fourth chapter Francis looks for signs of holiness in the World today, there are five great expressions of love for God and neighbor. The listed expressions are Perserverance, Patience and Meekness; Joy and sense of Humor; Boldness and Passion; In Community; and In Prayer. In each of these expressions Francis gives a deep reflection on each pulling from the Bible to explain some items and pulling from the lives of the Saint for others. The final chapter is on spiritual combat, and this battle can’t be reduced to the struggle against our human weaknesses and proclivities. In case you were wondering the battle is against the Devil, we all need to be cautious and stay alert for the devil is everywhere. We need to also be a bit more willing to discern things, asking for the help of the Holy Spirit when we decide things.

Let us all be able to take some basic things from this exhortation and try to add them into our lives. For this is one of the ways which will bring more happiness and holiness into the world. Sure I began strong and sort of puttered out toward the end but this thing it fairly long and it took several days to get through it and wrote it up. However, if you don’t want to take the time to read the Exhortation yourself this should suffice  These were some nice words from Pope Francis and I hope than many Catholics and sure Christians in general take the key point, living the Beatitudes and corporal works of mercy to heart. This is how we can become a better world.

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The Ascension

The second Glorious mystery is The Ascension it is found in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Luke. Forty days after Easter Jesus and the Apostles gather on the Mount of Olives and Jesus ascends into heaven and tells them to not leave Jerusalem until after the Holy Spirit comes. The fruit of the mystery is Hope and Desire for ascension to Heaven. Hope is something we all can have and we all hope for more than we can get. We also have a desire for all of us to go heaven in the long run.

The Resurrection

The first Glorious Mystery is The Resurrection. It appears in all the Gospels and I am positive that it is mentioned in a couple of other New Testament books as well. The fruit of this mystery is faith. Jesus after dying on Good Friday and being placed in a tomb on the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath, women came to anoint the body, but the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty. They were told to go tell of the good news. We should be reminded of the Story of Doubting Thomas, who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen until Thomas himself could see the hands and put his hand in the side. When Jesus finally appeared that second time with Thomas in the room Jesus said to him “because you’ve seen you believe. Blessed are those who have not see but believe.” This is faith, it is one of the theological virtues written about in the Encyclical Lumen Fidei.

Stations of the Resurrection

This is interesting as it is a complement for the Stations of the Cross. I hadn’t heard of these at all and for good reason they were proposed in 1988 by Father Sabino Palumbieria as a new set of stations, centered on the Resurrection and the events following from it, to emphasize the positive and hopeful aspect of the Christian story. Which he said are obscured by the emphasis on suffering in the Stations of the Cross.  The first time this devotion was done was in 1990, in 2001 the Holy See said that the Via Lucis (Way of Light) was a nice thing and that it has potential to restore a “culture of life” which is open to the hope and certitude offered by faith.

The list of Stations has not really been set so the station seem to be widely varied but they cover the events from the Resurrection to the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The list provided on Wikipedia not that in spite of continuing local variability, there appears nevertheless to be an increasing convergence upon the following as a recognized list of Stations of the Resurrection:

  1. Jesus is raised from the dead
  2. The finding of the empty tomb
  3. Mary Magdalene meets the risen Jesus
  4. Jesus appears on the road to Emmaus
  5. Jesus is known in the breaking of bread (Emmaus continued)
  6. Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem
  7. Jesus gives the disciples his peace and the power to forgive sins
  8. Jesus strengthens the faith of Thomas
  9. Jesus appears by the Sea of Tiberias
  10. Jesus forgives Peter and commands him to feed his sheep
  11. Jesus commissions the disciples upon the mountain
  12. The Ascension of Jesus
  13. Mary and the disciples wait in prayer
  14. The Holy Spirit descends at Pentecost

They all indicate that different stations that are used are as follows. The first couple all surround the resurrection itself with the Earthquake that occurs at the time of the Resurrection or when the women are the first to come and anoint the body and the find the tomb empty with an angel of Jesus there asking them what/who they are looking for or Mary Magdalene proclaims the Resurrection to the disciples.  The other ones are after resurrection appearances of Jesus like when he appeared to the 500 as mentioned in Corinthians or appeared to Saul.

It would be interesting if this turned into a regular devotion like Stations of the Cross but it has only been about 30 years since it was created and it took about 60 or so year before the Chaplet of Divine Mercy became popular, you also had a Pope who really backed the prayer.

Deus Caritas Est: Part Four

This week we finish up going through Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est. The focus this week is the conclusion of the document.

The conclusion starts with Benedict directing us to the Saints. He starts with one of that everyone should know Martin of Tours who illustrates the irreplaceable value of the individual testimony to charity when he offered his cloak to a poor man.  Then he moves on to Anthony the Abbot and the whole monastic community and loads of others, like Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis who founded the Camillians or Clerics Regular, Minsters to Sick which was basically the Red Cross before it existed, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac who were the co-founders of the Daughters of Charity, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo who formed many orders which still work together in activities focused on communicating God’s love for the poorest, John Bosco who founded orders which focused on poor children, Luigi Orione a student of Don Bosco and founder of the Son of Divine Providence who are dedicated in helping the poor, Mother Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few—stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. All of these people have done wonders and provided care to the less fortunate, we need to follow their example. Benedict picks out the example par excellence Mary, the mother of Jesus and mirror of holiness. Mary is great because she wants to magnify the Lord this can be seen in the Magnificat.   As we can pray or sing during Vespers “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.” Benedict traces this throughout the life of Mary from the Visitation to Pentecost.

His Holiness make note that the lives of the Saints don’t end when they die but continue in heaven with God. One thing is clear that as we draw closer to God we cannot withdraw from society, but become closer to it. At his Passion Jesus turned to his beloved disciple saying “Behold, your mother!” This is Mary and we are all the beloved disciple, Mary is our mother and she shows us what love is and whence it draws its origin and its constantly renewed power. This is what love is, let us all have to courage of Mary to say Yes to God’s call in our lives. As well as being open to the world although it seems like a horrible place currently.

Stations of the Cross

As we enter the holiest of weeks of the Church year Holy Week we turn to the Stations of the Cross. Now this is a fairly old tradition in the church with it dating back to somewhere in the mid to late 300s, it originated with the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The Via Dolorosa, the way of grief/sorrow/suffering, a pilgrimage site which runs through the city of Jerusalem there have been some alternate routes and there continue to be today. It covers the 14 stations of the cross, nine of which are on the route and five are located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  In the middle ages the Franciscans made outdoor shrines in Europe to duplicate the experience with seven to thirty stations on an approach to a church. It took until 1686 when Pope Innocent XI said that the Franciscans could have stations in their churches. In 1731, Clement XII expanded this to all church although Franciscans needed to erect them and it wasn’t until 1862 that the right was extended to all bishops in the church.

There are two sets of the Stations, the Traditional set that most of us know and the Scriptural one which the Pope does on Good Friday. The Scriptural Way of the Cross were established by Pope John Paul II in 1991 as a way to add nuance to an understanding of the Passion. The Scriptural Way was introduced because of the 14 stations in the Traditional Way only eight can be found in the Scripture.

The Traditional one are as follows

  1. Pilate condemns Jesus to die
  2. Jesus accepts his cross
  3. Jesus falls for the first time
  4. Jesus meets his mother, Mary
  5. Simon helps carry the cross
  6. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus
  7. Jesus falls for the second time
  8. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem
  9. Jesus falls for the third time
  10. Jesus is stripped of his clothes
  11. Jesus is nailed to the cross
  12. Jesus dies on the cross
  13. Jesus is taken down from the cross
  14. Jesus is placed in the tomb

The Scriptural one are as follows

  1. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane;
  2. Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested;
  3. Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin;
  4. Jesus is denied by Peter;
  5. Jesus is judged by Pilate;
  6. Jesus is scourged and crowned with thorns;
  7. Jesus takes up his cross;
  8. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross;
  9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem;
  10. Jesus is crucified;
  11. Jesus promises his kingdom to the repentant thief;
  12. Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other;
  13. Jesus dies on the cross; and
  14. Jesus is laid in the tomb.

A fifteenth station, the Resurrection can be added to both of these

Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord

The final Sorrowful Mystery is the Crucifixion of the Lord and focuses on the death of Jesus. It can be found in all the Gospels and it is mentioned several times in the Letters as well. This can also be found in some other non-Biblical books like Tacitus and Josephus as well as in the Babylonian Talmud, it is also mentioned in the Koran where Jesus isn’t Crucified but raised by Allah unto heaven.  So Jesus carried the cross and we have the Stations of the Cross which highlight these events, eventually getting to Calvary or Golgotha where he was stripped from his clothes and offered wine mixed with myrrh or gall to drink. Jesus was hung between two thieves with a sign saying Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.

The fruit of the mystery is Perseverance in faith, grace for a holy death and Forgiveness. This has quite a few fruits. We touch on the Cardinal Virtue of Fortitude as well as the Gift of from the Holy Spirit. It’s pretty great let us all pray for a holy death. As well as the courage to ask for forgiveness of all that we’ve done wrong in our lives to others and what not.

Deus Caritas Est: Part Two

As we have had the past two weeks it is time to explore Pope Benedict’s first Encyclical. In case you forgot it focuses on Love. Last week I went through the Introduction, now we are going to get into Part One of the Encyclical, this section is titles The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History.

To begin it tackles the basic fact that we begin with a simple problem with the word “love” as it has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings. Benedict dives into it with the three Greek words for love, eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agape, there is another storge (familiar love) but this is rarely used in ancient texts so it’s not talked about, pointing out that the Greek Old Testament used eros only twice while in the New Testament it is mostly found as agape, which Benedict points out is infrequently used in Greek, and John loved using philia.

This turns philosophical by quoting Nietzche “Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, certainly, but degenerated to Vice” Benedict goes and looks at how eros was seen in the pre-Christian world. He points to the Greeks who “considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication…process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness”, Virgil is know for his “Omnia vincit amor et nos cedamus amori” (Love conquers all let us, too, yield to love), and there were many fertility cults along with “sacred prostitution” of sorts in temples. So eros was celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine, but it oddly lacked the human. This is what the Old Testament was arguing about you need body and soul to experience eros and not a degradation but a maturity of the body. Sure the Church in the past has been opposed to the body, just look at St. Paul’s writing and his body (sarx)/spirit (pneuma) debate, and it still sort of exists today. Benedict takes this here and goes into the commodification of love/ sex as that is what most people look at it now as a thing you can buy and sell, just look at the internet and see the extant of the porn that can be found, for sale and for free. We now considers our bodies and sexuality as the purely material part of ourselves, to be used and exploited at will.

Benedict changes course here and goes into the Old Testament looking at the Song of Songs/Solomon/Canticles. Sure we don’t hear from this book very often but it’s a book of love songs. Benedict notes that in Hebrew there are two words used for love dodim (love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching) and ahabà (I give/love) this was translated by the Greeks as agape. Love is now a concern for someone else. This gets a bit out there offering different ways to look at the words  eros, is used to indicate “worldly” love or “ascending” love or possessive love and agape, being used to indicate love grounded in and shaped by faith, or “descending” love or oblative love. The Pope gives a great thing here and says that these two types of love can never be completely separated, as anyone who wants to get love must want to give love. This can be seen in the story of Jacob’s ladder where love can be seen as an inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received. It is nicely summed up in this passage “Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love.”

We dive back into the Bible and The Shema. Looking at the Bible we can see God loves, and his love can be called eros, but at the same time it is also agape. This turns to Jesus eventually as he is the combination of eros and agape. The Eucharistic feast is a prime example “This is my Body”…”This is my blood” we have been given so much and in this feast we all become one.  Let us remember The Great Commandment to love one another for Love can be “commanded” because it has first been given.

As The Beatles said “And in the end/The love you take/Is equal to the love you make.”

Carrying of the Cross

The fourth sorrowful mystery is Carrying the Cross it can be found in all the Gospels (Matthew 27:31–33, Mark 15:20–22, Luke 23:26–32 and John 19:16–18), but only John specifically mentions a cross and all but John mention Simon the Cyrene, who helped carry the cross. In a couple of weeks we will hear this story at Church several time. Jesus takes the cross, although there is some disagreement as to if it was a whole cross as we see in art or rather just the crossbar as many modern scholars believe. Jesus takes the cross and then we have the whole Stations of the Cross, more on that later.

The fruit of this mystery is Patience. This is something that we all could use a lot more of in the world today. All to often do we need/want everything to be done immediately. Society has trained us to want everything done as quick as possible but we need to take some time. Patience is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and we should continue to ask for patience in our lives.