By Fr. Rex Andrew Alarcon
Yes, the typewriter was the tool in vogue -in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Today, in the 21st century, most people still type letters, but not with a typewriter. We now use a computer or a tablet for convenience. In the past, a telegram was the swiftest way of relaying news. Today, people just text, tweet or post about their updates in social media. In the past, access to the topography of the Earth was only done thru NASSA. Today, one can simply download applications on one’s smartphone and gain access to such information. In the past, operating an equipment requires reading and following a manual step-by-step. Today, equipments and gadgets can be used even without manuals.
Tools have changed, affecting the way people live. The 21st century is very much different from the 20th century. That goes without saying that circumstances and the people’s way of life have also changed.
Those in other nations used to seem very far from us. Now, boundaries have been breached by technology. Travel has been made easier. Cultures meet; and, the world has become smaller.
In the past, parents and grandparents would remind children to consume every bit of rice on their plate with the warning that the length of stay in purgatory depends on wasted rice grains. Today, we rarely hear this kind of admonition, if at all.
It is noteworthy to recall that even before the 21st century, secular sciences like Sociology, Psychology and Medicine, have influenced ideas and practices in the sphere of Spirituality and Religion.
Indeed, times have radically changed. But it has always been affirmed that while surrounding and historical circumstances may differ, God’s call remains the same: that everyone is called to be holy. Religion and Spirituality is not a monopoly of and for the few.
This is affirmed by the recent letter of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, translated in English: ‘Rejoice And Be Glad’,taken from the gospel of Matthew 5:12.
The purpose of the Holy Father in issuing this letter is: “to repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love’ (Ephesians 1:4).”
He begins by stating that the call to holiness is for everyone, and not reserved to a few. He highlights that holiness is not simply of the saints or those beatified and canonized, but of God’s people, whom he calls as ‘saints next door’. This is the ‘holiness in the patience of parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, [and] in the elderly religious who never lose their smile.’ This is the holiness found in ‘next door neighbors, those who live in our midst [and] reflect God’s presence’. Pope Francis says this can be called “the middle class of holiness.” (GE nos. 6-9)
In his letter, the Holy Father cites two false forms of holiness: gnosticism and pelagianism. He speaks of a contemporary gnosticism “which unduly exalts knowledge or a specific experience, and considers its own vision of reality to be perfect” (GE no. 40). He describes this as ‘an intellect without God and without flesh; a doctrine without mystery’. ‘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.’ But God infinitely transcends the human person. It is not man who determines his way to encounter God. Those who profess to be able ‘to explain everything, or wants everything to be clear and sure -presume to control God’s transcendence’. (GE no. 41)
It is a caution not to reduce holiness to an intellectual exercise that distances one from the freshness of the Gospel. It is a caution to those who consider themselves ‘saints, perfect or better than the ignorant masses’ (GE no. 45). Thus wisdom must not be separated from mercy. It is not what we know that makes us holy, ‘but the kind of life we lead.’ (47)
The other form of false holiness, pelagianism, is ‘justification by one’s own efforts’, or the worship of the human will and its own abilites, resulting to self-centeredness and to an elitist complacency, without true love. Examples of these are: ‘obsession with the law, 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’. One consequence of this is turning the Church to a museum piece or a place for the possession of only a select few.
Gnosticism is a worship of the intellect, while peliagainism is a worship of the will -holiness due to one’s actions alone, without the need for grace. Jesus, the Master
Pope Francis proceeds with a meditation of the Beatitudes of Jesus, (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23), pointing to Jesus as the Master. According to him, while there may be varied theories about holiness, there is nothing greater than turning to Jesus himself and seeing the manner of Jesus. (GE nos. 63-95)
Thus, he proposes 5 spiritual attitudes, which he says are necessary to understand the way of life to which Jesus calls everyone. These attitudes, however, are ‘not the sum total of holiness, but [are] expressions of love for God and neighbor’. These are (1) Perseverance, Patience and Meekness, (2) Joy and a Sense of Humor, (3) Boldness and Passion, (4) Growth in holiness in Community, and (5) Growth in holiness in Constant Prayer. He describes these as Signs of Holiness in Today’s World (GE nos. 110-157).
Soldiers of God
The last part of the letter is a reminder that ‘Christian life is a constant battle.’ One needs strength and courage to be able to fight evil. Undeniably, one must be ready for spiritual combat. Always, one must be vigilant and able to use the gift of discernment, the capacity to know if something comes from the Spirit or from the spirit of the world (or the devil).
The Holy Father concluded his letter by citing Mary as the model of holiness, for she lived the Beatitudes. He hopes the letter, an apostolic exhortation, would help the Church promote anew the desire for holiness. (GE 177)
In this time and age, as the world and its people update themselves in the physical, scientific and technological spheres, we are called to renew ourselves both in the spiritual and moral dimensions. Gaudete et Exsultate is a timely reminder that joy, happiness, fulfillment and blessedness is a journey to holiness. Worship of man, excessive love and undue worship of the intellect and will is forgetting God’s love and mercy; and forgetfulness of neighbor, bland and mediocre existence will only lead to further sadness, remorse, eventual self-destruction and ultimately, death. Let our prayer be, for every day: “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit” (Psalm 51:12).