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Pope Francis offers practical steps to holiness in new exhortation

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Pope Francis has published a new apostolic exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate, on achieving holiness in the modern world.

The Pope says the document is “not meant to be a treatise on holiness” but “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.”

Holiness, he says, is not based on prayer alone but on also serving those in need and in self-control.

He gives an example: “a woman goes shopping, she meets a neighbour and they begin to speak, and the gossip starts. But she says in her heart: ‘No, I will not speak badly of anyone’. This is a step forward in holiness.”

He continues: “Later, at home, one of her children wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and listens with patience and love. That is another sacrifice that brings holiness.

“Later she experiences some anxiety, but recalling the love of the Virgin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet another path of holiness. Later still, she goes out onto the street, encounters a poor person and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.”

Expanding on the situation of meeting a homeless person on a cold night, the Pope says: “I can view him or her as an annoyance … or I can respond with faith and charity, and see in this person a human being with a dignity identical to my own.”

“That is what it is to be a Christian!”

In the third chapter, Pope Francis focuses on each of the beatitudes and how Christians can live up to them, and then in chapter four looks at the signs of holiness in today’s world, including patience, meekness and joy.

The Pope also criticises Christians who focus on only one particular issue, such as abortion, to the detriment of others.

Although opposition to abortion “needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred,” Pope Francis adds: “Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged.”

The Pope singles out “new pelagians” for criticism, saying they are marked out by “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige, a vanity about the ability to manage practical matters, and an excessive concern with programmes of self-help and personal fulfilment.”

“Some Christians spend their time and energy on these things, rather than letting themselves be led by the Spirit in the way of love,” he adds.

This pelagianism can cause the Church to “become a museum piece or the possession of a select few.”

In the final chapter, the Pope repeatedly mentions the devil, who he calls “more than a myth” and against whom Christians need to wage constant spiritual warfare.

“[W]e should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol,
a figure of speech or an idea,” he says.

“This mistake would lead us to let down our guard, to grow careless and end up more vulnerable. The devil does not need to possess us. He poisons us with the venom of hatred, desolation, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advantage of it to destroy our lives, our families and our communities.”

The exhortation is Pope Francis’s fifth major document, after Lumen Fidei, Laudato Si’, Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia.