If you are reading this blog piece, and have read at least two of the previous three chapter summaries presented earlier…CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are highly motivated in your search for holiness and a desire to better understand your faith. Welcome to the penultimate chapter of Pope Francis’ document on finding holiness in today’s world. After outlining the Beatitudes in the previous chapter as a flowchart for Christian holiness, Pope Francis now attempts to see holiness through a more concrete prism of our daily life situations. What are some of the attitudes that a good Christian ought to have in order to live out holiness in his or her life? Well, here are five of them which are important in today’s context.
Chapter 4: Signs of Holiness in today’s world [112 – 157]
- Perseverance, Patience and Meekness
The first sign is when God becomes the source of your inner strength, when you are grounded firmly in Him. This attitude helps a Christian face any situation in life, no matter how grave and hopeless. When you ‘know’ and ‘feel’ that God is with you, then, “All is well!” (Remember the Aamir Khan starrer 3 Idiots?) This is the source of strength of the Saints who face all hostility and violence with love and peace. This is also the sign of a person who can be depended on, because those who have their faith in God, can also be faithful to others. Such a person repays evil not with revenge but with love. Such a person protects the good name of others. He does not judge others for their faults but for their strengths. He is always ready to learn from others. If you are able to suffer humiliations for the good of others, then you resemble Christ!
“If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31)
The unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze. (cf. Jas 3:6)
“Always prefer to be taught by all, rather than to desire teaching even the least of all.” – St John of the Cross
“If when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval.” (1 Pet 2:20)
- Joy and a Sense of Humour
A holy Christian is always one full of joy and with a sense of humour; because one who has God within himself can never be sad or downcast. A true sign of a good Christian is that he/she always radiates happiness and laughter. They bring smiles and good cheer when they walk into a room. This person may be facing the hardest time of his life, yet nothing can destroy the joy and confidence that is within him, because he realises that when everything is said and done, God loves me! That joy brings deep security, serene hope and a spiritual fulfilment that the world cannot understand or appreciate.
Pope Francis recommends praying this prayer attributed to Saint Thomas More:
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humour to maintain it. Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil, but rather finds the means to put things back in their place. Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumbling, sighs and laments, nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called ‘I’. Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humour. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy, and to be able to share it with others.
- Boldness and Passion
Let me explain this pointing out how a Christian should NOT be. The biggest obstacle to evangelisation is a mentality of fear and a lack of enthusiasm among Christians to talk about their faith. We can be paralysed by excessive caution, always wanting to play it safe, never wanting to go out too far from the shore. We refuse to look reality in the eye and are instead tempted to flee to a ‘safe space’. This can have many names: individualism, spiritualism, addiction, living in a ‘me’ world, rejection of new ideas and approaches, pessimism, dogmatism, etc. We are like Jonah; we don’t want to go where the Lord wants us to go.
But God is never afraid. He is fearless! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. He wants us to be bold and have the courage to do things that no one else wants to do, to say the things that no one else says. Do not say “let things be as they are.” Let us ask for the courage to share our Christian stories with others and to stop trying to make our Christian life a museum of memories. As Pope Francis cleverly remarks, Jesus is not so much standing outside our door, knocking to be allowed inside; He is perhaps already inside us and knocking on the inside for us to let him escape from our stale and musty self-centredness.
- In Community
A symbolic and tell-tale sign of our society today is the youngster walking on the street, ears covered by headphones, eyes on his/ her smartphone, engrossed in another world, while oblivious to the world which is actually around them. Holiness is not lived alone, it is lived with others together. The latter is much more difficult as we experience in families, the workplace, church communities and even in religious communities. Isolating myself from others is contrary to holiness. In marriage, each spouse becomes the source of sanctification for the other. A holy person is one who can live out the commandments when he/she is with others.
Holiness is also about paying attention to the little things. A holy community is one in which the members pay attention to the little needs of everyone. Great Love in small things. God is in the details. Jesus asked his disciples to pay attention to details: that one sheep was missing, the widow who offered two small copper coins, of having spare oil ready for the lamps in case the bridegroom is delayed, of having a fire burning and fish cooking as he waited for the disciples at day break.
- In Constant Prayer
Remember how you can spend hours talking or texting to that special person in your life? How that person is always on your mind? Well, that’s prayer if the other person is God. If you say you love God, but don’t feel like talking to Him, is it true love? Holiness cannot be achieved without having a hotline to God. Prayers need not be said always in the traditional sense using the established formulas and lengthy devotions. What’s important is how much time you spend alone with God, talking to Him. Pray without ceasing! Prayer is also putting yourself quietly in front of the Lord’s fire and letting Him warm your heart. Be so close to Him that you will catch fire, yet you will not burn!
Prayer also is silence; it is reading God’s Word and ‘remembering’ all that He has done for me and others. Think of your own history when you pray and there you will find mercy. Prayer is also petition and intercession. It becomes a mark of our dependence on God and also an expression of our love for others. When we pray for others (even those we don’t like), we embrace their lives, their deepest troubles, their wellbeing, and their loftiest dreams. In prayer, you will find the strength to forgive.
Finally, this prayer must lead us to the Eucharist, to receiving Jesus in Holy Communion. It is there that the human and divine meet together.
If you haven’t yet read the previous three posts, click on the links below:
If you are ready to begin reading the original document of Pope Francis, click here.