May 2018 Four County Catholic
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
As we continue to celebrate the joyful Easter Season, we have been blessed with a wonderful message of joy and a call to holiness by the Holy Father, Pope Francis. It comes in the form of an apostolic exhortation perfectly titled Gaudete et Exsultate or Rejoice and be Glad. In his own words in the way of introduction, Pope Francis writes, “My modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities.” I encourage you to take the time to read the document available by link on the diocesan website. You will be inspired and will lose any fear you may have had about our shared call to sainthood.
The beautifully written document is a humble summation of the papacy of this Pope who has so consistently been teaching us to lift the poor and vulnerable, respect the sanctity of life, be merciful in how we live our faith and to be holy and joyful. These central tenets of Pope Francis’s pontificate are brightly illuminated in “Rejoice and be Glad.” You will recognize the title as the same words Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:10-12) as He described, through the Beatitudes, the characteristics of a true Christian. Pope Francis generously calls on the Beatitudes to help characterize the call to holiness in today’s world. He refers to the Beatitudes as the roadmap to holiness. Among the examples he brings forward is the seventh Beatitude, Blessed are the Merciful, reflecting the simplicity Jesus used to demonstrate what it means to be holy. Pope Francis asks us to embody them, as they will make us “genuinely happy.”
He also references many saints, forty in all I believe, who encourage and accompany us in our daily lives. His succinct descriptions establish their lives as founded in joy and relevant to present day. Being called to sainthood, as we all are, is attainable and not to be feared. In a conversational manner, Pope Francis talks of “saints next door,” removing some of the intimidation of our striving to be saints. I couldn’t help but be reminded of our own Saint Bernard School’s motto, “Be a Saint!” That motto in our everyday lives is precisely the spirit of Gaudete et Exsultate. Don’t be afraid, writes Pope Francis, “to set your sights higher.”
It helps to be reminded, as we are in the exhortation, that our faith teaches and offers us many ways to work on succeeding in our journey to a state of holiness. The Holy Father speaks of the importance of prayer; he uses the terms faith-filled and trust-filled prayer -- the power of prayer. He also speaks of meditating on the Word of God, celebration of Holy Mass, adoration of the Eucharist, the Sacraments, works of charity and kindness, community life and missionary outreach. We must be vigilant, he stresses. “We must not fall asleep.”
The enablers of a holy life are presented not in a generic context, but entirely and wonderfully relevant to our time, our culture, our world. The Holy Father recognizes that the path to holiness must take emerging technology into account as it so pervasively affects social interaction. He speaks out against the “verbal abuse and lashing out” against one another on the internet, or in other words, bullying – a growing challenge to be met and overcome with the strength of holiness.
I was particularly moved by his treatment of global migration. We more often than not have a tendency to look at this crisis in political or ideological terms. If we can look first at this struggle as a call to love our fellow man, we might begin to see their plight in a new light. If we could start there, our community response and our political views might begin to be more compassionate and less judgmental. As Pope Francis suggests, “We need to stand in the shoes of our brothers and sisters who risk their lives to offer a future to their children.” If we begin here, we will look more willingly and creatively for solutions. “We will be grounded in love and grounded in mercy.” We can do so much more.
Self-centeredness is too often in the way. To feel more connected to those in need, whether immigrants among us or truly everyone we encounter, we must lift ourselves up first. To this point, Pope Francis calls on Saint Therese of Lisieux who speaks to us with remarkable relevance to our time, “If we are constantly upset and impatient with others, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and limitations of others with tenderness, we can actually help them and stop wasting our energy on useless complaining.” Above all Charity.
Every page of the Holy Father’s inspiring message calls out that we are meant to be ourselves, and to recognize and embrace that God wants us to be saints. “We should not settle for a bland and mediocre existence.” Be a saint!
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Bishop Michael R. Cote