Robert Ellsberg


The subject of Pope Francis’s latest apostolic exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad, is “the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.” That call to holiness is not about becoming a canonized saint. Instead, it is “nothing other than charity lived to the full.” The challenge, as he emphasizes, is not to emulate the great saints, but to find the way of being holy “in our own way.” (Fr. James Martin, SJ, elaborates on this theme in a wonderful afterword, while I have written an introductory commentary.)

For Pope Francis the basic guide to happiness is found in the Beatitudes—“the identity card” of a Christian. From that perspective, he uses his theme to address contemporary dangers facing the church. These dangers arise not so much from outside threats as from tendencies within the church: the temptation to regard the gospel as the property of an elect few, to transform Jesus’ message into a system of rigid codes, or to substitute “a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige” in place of the essential message of mercy and love. The signs of holiness are found not only in great deeds, but in joy and a sense of humor, in passion and boldness, and in everyday expressions of “patience, perseverance, and meekness.”


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