Fr. Rex Andrew C. Alarcon
In the recent letter of the Holy Father, titled Gaudete et Exsultate, regarding ‘the call to holiness’, Pope Francis proposes five spiritual attitudes as signs of holiness in the present context. These attitudes, however, according to him, are not the sum total of a model of holiness. They are certain aspects of the call to holiness. Nevertheless, they are great expressions of one’s love for God and neighbor.
The fifth chapter of Gaudete et Exsultate is entitled: “Signs of Holiness in Today’s World”. Pope Francis begins the treatment of the signs with a warning about the following dangers: anxiety that is sometimes violent, that distracts and debilitates, negativity and sullennes; self-content as a result of consumerism; individualism and [the] different types of substitute or false spirituality. He therefore suggests a ‘solid grounding on God.’ Such solid grounding is an inner strength that allows a person to endure hostility, betrayal and the failings of others. Thus, to be holy is to be firmly gounded on God; to have an inner strength that comes from the Lord. One must be cautious of ‘spiritualities’ grounded on other things except God; of a spirituality that professes to have answers except coming from God. He names this inner strength as patience, perseverance and meekness. This is the first sign of holiness, a spiritual attitude needed in our time.
The second spiritual attitude, cited by Pope Francis, is an antidote against timidity, being gloomy or sarcastic. It is not a healthy sign when one is consumed by vexations of the mind. In a fast paced world with too many concerns, one can be paralyzed and disturbed by too much worry, problems and dillemas. To address these predicaments one must strive to be joyful and keep a sense of humour. It is likewise to experience the joy in the Holy Spirit. The Pope indicates that growth in holiness is learning to entrust to God those that are beyond one’s powers.
It is tempting to stay in the comfort of the shore, rather than plunge into the deep waters. It is easier to flee difficult situations; to be uncaring and indifferent; or stay behind rules and policies. Yet, these are not signs of holiness. Pope Francis warns against excessive fear, orfleeing to a safe haven like: ‘individualism, spiritualism, living in a little world, addiction, intransigence, the rejection of new ideas and approaches, dogmatism, nostalgia, pessimism, hiding behind rules and regulations.’ This may take the form of fear of change for the new and good; mediocrity or shallow conformity. In the face of these, Pope Francis suggests a third spiritual attitude: pharessia or boldness. Boldness is freedom of a life open to God, the courage and zeal to serve and evangelize. Holiness is reaching out to others, especially those in the periphery and at the margins.
The fourth attitude cited by the Pope is one needed to combat isolationism, individualism or self-contentment that is unmidful of others. He says, holiness is living in community. This is to create a God-enlightened space characterized by a sincere concern for others. Obviously, excessive and exclusive concern for the self is not a sign of holiness. On the contrary, holiness is attention to the details of the needs of one’s neighbor, for example: attention to the day-to-day needs of a member of a family or a co-worker or colleague.
The fifth spiritual attitude mentioned by the Pope is the disposition of prayer: prayer which is not an escape from nor a rejection of the world around, but openness to the transcendent. Pope Francis speaks of prayer that brings the concerns and the needs of the world to God. A holy person is one whose prayers contain the needs of his neighbors, of communities, especially those of the poor and the needy. Prayer is likewise living in the constant presence of God. ‘I dont believe there is no holiness without prayer,’ Pope Francis says.
In Gaudete et Exsultate, Pope Francis treats these five spiritual attitudes after a meditation on the Beatitudes. He notes that holiness ‘is not about a mystical rapture’ but a contemplation for Christ, that is learning ‘to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he himself wished to be identified.’ Holiness is not limited to doing charity alone, but imitating Christ and recognizing him in the poor and suffering.
While the five spiritual attitudes lead to sanctification, it should be kept in mind that ultimately ,holiness is fidelity to Jesus, the Master. The Saints are holy not only because of their good and charitable acts, but because of their imitation of Jesus.