Rejoice and be Glad (Gaudete et Exsultate)
Pope Francis is prolific in his efforts to help Christians know how to live in the world and to challenge us to more effectively live our faith. His latest apostolic exhortation – Rejoice and be Glad (Gaudete et Exsultate) – flows very naturally from his other exhortations of various types. This new document reflects on how people can be holy in a modern world filled with secular distractions and materialism.
This is rooted in his conviction that “holiness is the most attractive face of the Church.” He is speaking to ordinary people, living ordinary lives. As is his custom, he emphasizes action over theological discussion. He is suggesting that small gestures, patience and love can make a huge difference in the lives of people.
Francis is a strong adherent of the call to actually live the Gospel in our day-to-day existence. So many Christian speak of making that a desire, but don’t always act on it. Francis is reminding us that it doesn’t have to be complicated. I would suggest that the outpouring of love for Humboldt, SK and the Broncos shows us what he means.
Francis urges people to be “the saint next door” by doing good and living the Gospel as best they can. He relies on Matthew 25 (“feed the hungry, clothe the naked”) and the beatitudes as offering wisdom about “signs of holiness in the world”. He refers to these as “the Christian’s identity card.” This is a model for maintaining charity and mercy, rather than rigid rules.
One sign of holiness, Francis says, is “joy and a sense of humor.” Another consists in “boldness and passion,” in an “impulse to evangelize and to leave a mark in this world” and in not allowing oneself to be paralyzed by fear.
He told believers that, “God impels us constantly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is familiar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where humanity is most wounded…God is not afraid! He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he himself became a fringe. So, if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there; indeed, he is already there.”
As with most of his writings and speeches, Pope Francis uses simple language that steers clear of legalism and moral teaching. He wants to avoid adding to the “heavy burdens” (Matthew 23) that weigh on people. Some in the Church criticize Francis for confusing people about Church teaching.
Commentary in America Magazine suggests that he appears to respond to those concerns. “He does so in chapter 2, by exposing ‘two subtle enemies of holiness,’ or ancient heresies, that many of them appear [his critics] to have fallen into: Gnosticism, which reduces Christ’s teaching to a cold and harsh logic that seeks to dominate everything; and Pelagianism, which tends to give the idea that all things are possible to human will and downplays the grace of God.”
He also criticizes those who “separate these Gospel demands from their personal relationship with God.” However, Francis didn’t respond enough for some people. Writing in First Things, Dan Hitchens acknowledges the strengths of Gaudete et Exsultate, but suggests that it “adds to the ambiguity of Pope Francis’s papacy.”
Francis sees that all of the Church’s social teachings have value. Thus we are not to prioritize one while disregarding the other, not to give “excessive importance” to one focus.
Thus he says, “Our defense of the innocent unborn, for example, needs to be clear, firm and passionate, for at stake is the dignity of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each person. … Equally sacred, however, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the destitute, the abandoned and the underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly exposed to covert euthanasia, the victims of human trafficking, new forms of slavery, and every form of rejection.”
The Pope said that people who consider social justice a “secondary issue compared to the grave bioethical questions” were like “a politician looking for votes.”
Francis highlights “feminine styles of holiness” as “an essential means of reflecting God’s holiness in this world.” He notes, “In times when women tended to be most ignored or overlooked, the Holy Spirit raised up saints whose attractiveness produced new spiritual vigor and reforms in the church.”
He mentions several women (Saints Hildegard of Bingen, Bridget, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Thérèse of Lisieux), but adds that he was also thinking of “all those unknown or forgotten women who, each in her own way, sustained and transformed families and communities by the power of their witness.” 
Since so much of the debate over doctrine and church teaching has unfolded online, both in social media and in more organized Catholic media, Francis sounds a note of concern for how Christians engage in these spaces. He warns “Christians too can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet and the various fora of digital communication.”
He notes that “. . .even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned. The result is a dangerous dichotomy, since things can be said there that would be unacceptable in public discourse, and people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.”
He is challenging us to be more perfect. Francis tells readers that the Lord wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence. He tells us that the call to holiness is a consistent call of both the Old and New Testaments.
He is “re-proposing the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.” The Pope indicates that he is well aware of the challenges of our world. But he also sees opportunities for a new evangelization. Pope Francis thus continues in his efforts to make the Gospel come alive in our increasingly complex world.
 I recommend a short book that I recently discovered and used in Lent. Mary T. Malone wrote Four Women Doctors of the Church a few years ago and Orbis Books published it. She offers very readable and brief looks at Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. I had Mary when she taught church history at St. Augustine’s Seminary in Toronto. She was knowledgeable and had a common sense approach to church history.