We are all called to be holy and His grace gives us the strength to do so! That is why on this Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to share a few points from Pope Francis’ Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad). In this apostolic exhortation, he reminds everyone — you and I — of our universal call to holiness.
Contrary to many misunderstandings, holiness is not just for the bishops, priests, or religious. It is not just for the saints or for those who are deemed or seemed to be holy. It is a beautiful gift and invitation for everyone. It is the Lord who calls us to be holy, each in our own proper state of life! We are holy because God is holy. Therefore, holiness is the central mission of who we are as Christians. We cannot simply say that “It is not for me!” because of this or that reasoning since it is actually required for all of us.
God who is holy, formed and created us out of love and instilled His spirit within us; therefore, we naturally have the desire to do good. Furthermore, this desire for the good, when reflected and taken with prayer, leads us toward a deeper understanding and desire to holiness as we reflect God’s pure goodness and divine presence to everyone around us. Holiness helps us not to do good that is only judged or measured by productivity and action-based standards but as a way to participate, reflect, and share in divine goodness. Holiness radiates divine love so people do not only see our words and actions but that they see God in and through us.
This life of holiness begins with what we have listened and received from prayers, recognizing the beautiful signs and wondrous works of the Lord in creation, in our life, and among us. We then realize that the Gospel, the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ, and its power speak through us by the way that we live our lives. We are called to make the Gospel alive, instead of simply treating it as written words in a book, as we live this universal call to holiness. When we internalize and pray the Sacred Scriptures and allow the living words of God to permeate, transforms, and guides our words and actions, we come to realize that we are living and doing what we are called to do naturally and supernaturally as His children.
Christ’s mission to bring everyone to the knowledge of the Heavenly Father’s love becomes our mission because we recognize that our lives are inseparable from the love of the Savior who chose to die for the love of us. We are renewed in our commitment, united with Him in and through prayers to build the Kingdom of God, filled with love, justice, and peace — beginning with us. The Holy Father calls us to become “contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission [in life].” (26) Our whole life then becomes missionary as we embrace, share, and participate in the salvific and redemptive mission of Christ.
At this moment in the reflection, I think it is important to emphasize that there is an intricate balance between prayer and work, contemplation and mission, resting and doing, else we lose focus on what we are called to be. Everything, every minute of our lives, can be a step along the path to growth in holiness. This spiritual and holistic moderation grounds us firmly on our God-given mission instead of simply trusting in our own abilities or thinking that we are better than others because we are able to do the things that we do. We are who we are because God loves us and has given us His grace! We are missionary and instrumental in sharing and building His kingdom when we realize that we are simply instruments of His loving grace, that He is working through us even in our weaknesses. The Blessed Mother and the saints have affirmed these immeasurable workings of grace in their own lives as they lived fully and wholeheartedly their own call of discipleship, which is the instrumental and humble reflection and sharing of divine love through the genuine and sacrificial gift of themselves. Their joys were so contagious because they depended on His love and share Him with everything that they had! This is the paradoxical and mysterious understanding of true richness in Christ.
The saints taught us that in our nothingness and total dependency on God, we share the spiritual wealth that comes from Him, the wealth that this world can never understand or obtain by its own powers or manipulations. By our total dependence on the Almighty, we are able to be comfortable with one another without being bogged down by conflicts, disputes, enmities, vanity, pride, or the desire to manipulate or dominate others. “Meekness is yet another expression of the interior poverty of those who put their trust in God alone,” said the Holy Father. (74) He spoke much about living the Beatitudes as ways to personalize the Christocentric message and personal invitation of Christian discipleship so we can show the world that is still too occupied with petty interests and manipulations that there is true freedom found in faith. When the heart of prayer is moved to the service of one another, free from the tarnishes of selfish worries, that is when we are able to see and reflect God in our midst.
The Holy Father recognizes the challenges of living the Gospel in today’s world because our message will not always be popular and often times become a nuisance to society. It is not easy nor can we expect everything to be easy. Nevertheless, “whatever weariness and pain we may experience in living the commandment of love and following the way of justice, the Cross remains the source of our growth and sanctification. We must never forget that when the New Testament tells us that we will have to endure suffering for the Gospel’s sake, it speaks precisely of persecution. Accepting daily the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us problems: that is holiness.” (92)
We continue to be who we are, carrying on what the Master has done in His own life, even though our words and actions might not always be welcomed and accepted with joy. However, the saints remind us that our true joy is found in the Lord as we are able to participate in His providential cares for the people. We are the people of hope — hope in Him — so our joy cannot be diminished by the apparent trials that are in front of us. Our love and devotion to God are clearly seen and purely received when we generously give ourselves and allow His gifts to be at work in and through us. Our prayers, words, and actions then become the intimate expressions of who we really are.
The Holy Father challenges us not to return evil with evil (cf. Romans 12:17) but to take everything with prayerful humility: “Humility can only take root in the heart through humiliations. Without them, there is no humility or holiness. If you are unable to suffer and offer up a few humiliations, you are not humble and you are not on the path to holiness. Humiliation makes you resemble Jesus; it is an unavoidable aspect of the imitation of Christ.” (118) Even though it is not pleasant, it is the surest and most intimate way to imitate and grow in union with the Lord. We are never a people of glooms and dooms, for when “hard times may come, when the Cross casts its shadow, yet nothing can destroy the supernatural joy that ‘adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.’ That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfillment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.” (125)
The Holy Spirit is always guiding us and it is important for us to listen to His inspirations instead of remaining complacent. When consumeristic individualism challenges us to only worry about ourselves, we remember that we are in communion with each other. We are called to build a community, founded on the bond of believers and nourishes by the love of God for one another. Our prayers and openness to God’s will strengthen our communion with those who are around us. That is why we must find silence in our post-modern busyness and overpacked schedule to pray, adore, reflect, and discern the paths of holiness to which the Lord is calling us right now. The Holy Father describes beautifully that our personal faith encounter with Christ leads us to the communal worship of the Church: “Meeting Jesus in the Scriptures leads us to the Eucharist, where the written word attains its greatest efficacy, for there the living Word is truly present. In the Eucharist, the one true God receives the greatest worship the world can give Him, for it is Christ Himself who is offered. When we receive Him in Holy Communion, we renew our covenant with Him and allow Him to carry out ever more fully His work of transforming our lives.” (157)
Simply put, I hope the short summary and highlights of this wonderful apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father will invite you to read the full document. It is a revisiting of the age-old invitation to seek the Lord and answer our universal call to holiness. We are all called to discern, grow, and deepen our understanding of God’s will for us as we set and fix our hearts to His’. Prayers lead to an intimate relationship with the Lord, and this relationship leads us to the personal, generous gift of ourselves as we desire to make decisions to live in His presence, even if it means to sacrifice everything that hinders us from loving Him fully. As we struggle with our daily anxieties and fears, we fix our eyes on the love of God that strengthens and liberates us from lower goods and deceptive lies. Is the life of Christian discipleship, true love lived in holiness, hard? The answer is yes because it demands our every attention; but, we are not alone, “God asks everything of us, yet He also gives everything to us.” (175) Therefore, let us not be afraid, but learn each day to fully trust in Him and to live in His love, so that what we encounter in loving prayers can be enlivened in our daily mission of self-giving service to our brothers and sisters. By our personal and intimate commitment to the Lord, may we reflect and share the joy of the Gospel and true happiness that comes from faith to all. This is who we are and what we can offer to the world as Christians, and this world cannot rob us from the joy that we have in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.