By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ, & Director, CREDI. Visit rcsocialjusticett.org for our columns, media releases and more.
“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty.” (Jn 15:5)
There is an inextricable link between the teachings in today’s Gospel (John 15:1–8) and Pope Francis’ latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad) which calls us to holiness—“the most attractive face of the Church”.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to make our home in Him, as He makes His in us, “as a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself but must remain part of the vine”. We cannot bear fruit by ourselves; apart from Jesus we can do nothing.
I know quite a few individuals who, having moved up in life, attaining wealth and status, act as though they achieved great heights on their own. And then they pull up the proverbial ladder behind them and fail to help others.
Sadly, this is a sign of the times. We live in a time when selfishness and individualism are rampant. As Pope Francis said in 2013 when he visited a favela/slum in Rio de Janeiro: “The culture of selfishness and individualism that often prevails in our society is not what builds up and leads to a more habitable world: it is the culture of solidarity that does so.”
In order to build a culture of solidarity, we need to focus on conscience formation, and respond positively to the moral order/the natural law that God has inscribed in our hearts (CCC1776).
Writing about Gaudete et Exsultate, the UK Tablet states: “The Pope’s idea of holiness embeds a prophetic anger against the dull mediocrity of consumerist individualism but, no less, against intellectualised religiosity. In the five short, well-crafted chapters of his new exhortation Francis speaks from a Catholic pulpit but his audience is the whole of humanity in its contemporary crisis of faith. He exposes the degradation of humanity produced by empty lifestyles, conspicuous consumption and the refusal to see God in the poor and marginal.
“Holiness is not about being a special sort of person or living apart from the world but about being a good next-door neighbour, finding a more perfect way of doing what we are already doing, and doing the ordinary in an extraordinary way. Holiness needs times of quiet, solitude and silence but ‘it is not healthy to love silence while fleeing interaction with others’.
“Holiness is a practical life-long process grounded in the mysticism of incarnation. Community is both the laboratory and the flower of a way of life that runs through every moment of every day. Prayer is precious because it nourishes a daily commitment to love and that special benefit of deep prayer that St Ignatius identified as discernment, the intelligence of the heart.”
CCSJ sees Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhoration as an opportunity for us to truly learn how to “remain” in Christ so that we will not “wither”. See CCSJ’s Website for the summary of Gaudete et Exsultate.
You will recall that the Vatican II document, Lumen Gentium (1964) stated that “all the faithful are invited and obliged to holiness” (Ch 5, 42). Pope Francis highlights several qualities he finds especially important for living holiness in today’s culture, including: perseverance, patience, humility, joy, a sense of humour, boldness, and passion. He urges us to pray, read scripture, help others, maintain/uphold human dignity. Here are two extracts:
“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… A Christian cannot think of his or her mission on earth without seeing it as a path of holiness. This path has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him…holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full… In the Beatitudes Jesus explains with great simplicity what it means to be holy…. Holiness is not based on prayer alone but on also serving those in need and in self-control.”
“Let us ask the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory, and let us encourage one another in this effort…Do not be afraid of holiness. ”