In early April 2018, Pope Francis released his Apostolic Exhortation Rejoice and Be Glad, in which he invites us to respond generously to God’s invitation to holiness of life. We are called to be holy disciples of the Lord; but we need to learn from the witness of saints who have gone before us, not just officially canonized saints but also saintly people next door or in our extended family.
While urging us not to fall into the trap of ego-centered self-help programs or the illusion that we can be truly spiritual apart from the Church, he outlines three central areas to focus on: conversion to virtue in the fulfillment of the concrete responsibilities of our lives; prayer and sacramental life; loving outreach to those in need around us. Let us expand on each of these.
Virtue, Prayer, and Outreach
First, each of us has a unique calling in life with attendant responsibilities to fulfill. If we recognize what these are, admit to any failing and then repent, we open ourselves to God’s grace. God wants to help us nurture those virtues that make it possible to fulfill those same responsibilities with love and joy. When this happens, we begin to live a significantly new way of life. Isn’t it a delight to encounter people who are happy in the fulfillment of the tasks of daily life?
The second point Pope Francis makes is that we need spiritual formation, which listening to the Word of God makes available and the grace of sacramental life makes possible. We need to carve out daily quiet time to listen and be taught by God’s Word in Sacred Scripture. In a world of so many bewildering messages, we can only become stabilized and attuned to life-giving truth in quiet pondering of the Word of God. Then, participation in the sacramental life of the Church offers us God’s helpful grace to resist what otherwise keeps us mired in our sinful ways and to grow in the way of virtue. How helpful it can be for us in preparation for coming to Sunday Mass to take time to pre-read the scriptural passages that will be publicly proclaimed at Mass. This practice makes it possible for us to hear with more fruitfulness the passages as they are offered to us during our participation of Sunday Mass. It also increases our openness to the redemptive and sanctifying grace made available in the celebration of the Eucharist.
Finally, Pope Francis points to outreach to those in need in our lives. Those in need may experience physical or emotional or intellectual or spiritual need. He urges us to do this, not just in a detached way but regularly, to include such people in our lives because the Risen Lord has identified himself with them. After his Ascension into heaven, the Lord Jesus continues his living presence among us, not only in his substantial presence in the Eucharist but also in his spiritual presence in those in need of love in our lives.
To realize this noble call, Pope Francis urges us to fine-tune our capacity for spiritual discernment. This will enable us to recognize more clearly the difference in our everyday lives between the deceptive allurements of the Evil One, Satan, and the elevating invitations of the Risen Lord.
What an attractive invitation! Saints in our midst point the way. So may we look beyond the celebrities, who dominate the news cycle and mesmerize our attention, to see with the eyes of faith those who are true heroes! Those in our midst, who witness to virtue and joy in the fulfillment of their responsibilities in life and listen regularly to God’s word, participate in the sacramental life and welcome the wounds of the Risen Lord in those crying out for love in their lives are the heroes—the hidden saints who can inspire us to become holy disciples of the Lord. When and if that happens in our lives, those around us will be encouraged to say, “The Lord has truly risen, alleluia!”
Archbishop Alfred Hughes is the former Archbishop of New Orleans. He now serves on the faculty of Notre Dame Seminary and on committees of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in the area of evangelization and catechesis.
This article originally appeared on page 25 of the print edition.
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