In his very personal musings on holiness, the Pope refers to the “patience of God’s people” and the holiness present in “those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile”.
“Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness’,” he writes.
Adding to the positive reception of the exhortation by commentators around the world, Archbishop Wilson said it was “brilliant, really beautiful” and should be a “manifesto for everything we do here in the diocese”.
The Tablet international Catholic newspaper described it as: “a remarkable document and could be regarded as this Pope’s spiritual masterpiece. A thousand sermons could be preached on it, and everyone in the congregation would instantly sense that the Pope is talking to them personally.”
Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, Vicar General of the Diocese of Rome, told a packed press hall that Pope Francis had written the document “to show where the Church is going, where we are going” and that beyond internal debates and discussions sets out “the goal of the Church” today.
The third apostolic exhortation delivered by Pope Francis, it follows Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel) and Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).
In the lengthy exhortation, Pope Francis refers to “small gestures” that contribute to holiness.
“Here is 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. 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.”
Pope Francis warns against “Gnosticism” and obsession with doctrine and ideology, saying that “when somebody has an answer for every question, it is a sign that they are not on the right road”.
“They may well be false prophets, who use religion for their own purposes, to promote their own psychological or intellectual theories,” he writes. “God infinitely transcends us; he is full of surprises.”
The Pope calls on Christians to follow the Beatitudes through serving the marginalised, the poor and migrants, stressing the dignity of human life, including the child in the womb.
Writing for American Catholic media outlet Crux, Fr Jeffery Kirby describes the exhortation as an “opportunity” that should not be lost.
“It’s a beautiful exposition, based on the Beatitudes, of what holiness looks like. It’s our chance to remind the Church and world of why Francis does what he does, why he loves what he loves, and why he serves those that he serves.
“The exhortation, therefore, is a signpost, a reminder, and a prophetic call. It points us all back to a love for God and neighbour. It’s a summons once again to the way of holiness. What will we do with it?”
The exhortation can be found at www.vatican.va