This week, Pope Francis promulgated a beautiful Apostolic Exhortation entitled Gaudete et Exsultate. In reading it, I was struck by 12 separate teachings; all of which are profound and in dire need of being heard today, and many if not most of which are actually — so it seems — brand new teachings in the Magisterium. Although they are not discordant with or in contradiction to any pre existing Magisterial teaching, nevertheless many of these 12 points are ones I have never seen taught in any formal Magisterial Document until now. This is a major and important development, which really changes things if we have eyes to see it. Let us therefore read and heed what the Holy Father is teaching us here! What previously was only good advice that could be refuted is now authoritative Church teaching which all Catholics can — and must — proceed with conviction in living by and promulgating.
There are many other beautiful teachings in this Exhortation that I am not including here; so I recommend reading the whole thing. I am merely presenting what I found particularly necessary or new.
Before diving in, I’d just like to first highlight that Pope Francis closes the first chapter of this Exhortation with an appeal to the very quote that was the topic of my post from last July – ‘The Only Tragedy‘, which I’d like to present again as dovetailing well with this Exhortation.
Images are from the Exhortation, typed text is mine:
1) Copying is Not Enough
Far too often I hear, in Catholic Circles, some inspired soul present to another more “experienced” Catholic what he sees as God calling him to. Immediately the latter responds with polite denigration, assuring him that this inspiration is actually not what St. _______ did, or Bl. ________ did, in a somewhat comparable situation.
How utterly tragic. God created you for a reason — that reason is not to be a mere copy of a Saint God already created! If that were so, God would merely have inspired another book to be written about that saint. You, instead, were created to be the very Incarnation of God’s own Will for your life — a plan both “unique and unrepeatable.” Of course there are certain themes found in all saints and which must be found in our lives as well. But too many Catholics chase a false security by acting as if salvation — and even sanctification — is somehow guaranteed merely by copying every detail of some other holy person they discovered. And what a lie that is.
This is also the false-security-oriented mentality that disdains valid Private Revelations that aren’t identical to the Private Revelations that preceded them. Oh, how many times I have heard, for example, “but the Medjugorje visionaries didn’t do what the Fatima visionaries did, so Medjugorje must be a fraud!” What utter nonsense.
2)Holiness is Claiming the Life of Jesus as One’s Own
Nothing does this more beautifully and powerfully than Luisa’s revelations. Much of them consist in fusing ourselves with the Divine Will and appropriating for ourselves all that which Jesus did — in both His humanity and His Divinity — for the reordering of all creation in His Will.
3)Look for Signs
The common response of many so-called “learned” Catholics is to smile condescendingly when a simpler soul looks for signs from God in order to know and do His Will. “The theological teachings of the Church are enough; obey the Commandments, receive the Sacraments, remain a good Catholic, and all you need to consists in this alone,” they say. Thanks be to God we now have the Magisterium itself refuting such covert worldliness. The Magisterium, the Commandments, the Precepts, etc., are a solid ground to stand on and guardrails to prevent our careening off a cliff. They are not desks to hide under, which is what the “all you need is the Sacraments, everything else is distraction” crowd treats them as.
Later in the Exhortation, this same issue is treated in a slightly different context, when Pope Francis writes:
The nice, neat, clear norms aren’t enough. They are necessary, but not sufficient. Countless theologians, apologists, self-acclaimed theologians, and generally self-described “experienced” Catholics will insist that they are enough. That the norms are all you need. In so doing all they’ve done is revealed that they themselves have entirely missed the very fundamental purpose of the Catholic Religion: which is not knowledge of and adherence to a set of guidelines and principles: it is absolute and total commitment to a person, Jesus Christ, and a willing desire to totally conform to Him. This conformity will nevertheless vary from person to person, and therefore is fundamentally incapable of being entirely discovered by adherence to a set of principles that apply to everyone.
This all, of course, entails a risk. Worldly people see risk as the worst thing. They rightly protest: You may see a sign that is not there; you may even read a sign from the devil. You seek to discern what the Spirit Wills for you and you may fall into following your own ambition instead. Oh well. Proceed with your best discernment and understand that the risk is worth taking. The only other option is shutting off your ears to God’s voice, which is blasphemy. Pope Francis continues, assuring us:
Yes, your life is a revelation to the world. Let it be so. Do not stifle that revelation by supposing that what already has been revealed is enough. “Public Revelation,” i.e. the Deposit of Faith, indeed is already complete. But revelation is not over and done with so long as we remain pilgrims in this world.
4)Christ’s Kingdom is Going to Come on Earth, and Your Job is to Help Hasten that Happening
Contrary to the slanders published by certain desperate promoters of their own invented eschatological speculations, those who believe and seek to hasten the Coming of the Kingdom are not Millenarian Heretics: rather, they are merely those who realize that there is no other way to grow in holiness. Devote yourself entirely, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to hastening the Coming of the Kingdom. “Let the coming of the Kingdom be your only purpose in life” – approved revelation of Jesus to Elisabeth Kindlemann.
5)You Don’t Have it Figured Out. So Remain Open to What Great Things God still has in Store
God help them –but it is certain learned and “orthodox Catholics” who, consistently, are the greatest opponents of God’s greatest plans on earth. Just read the biographies of the greatest saints, and you’ll see this is true. Look especially at the life of St. Faustina and St. Padre Pio. They were silenced by these “good Catholics” who are convinced that they already have all the answers, so God of course, in their book, has no right to come up with some sort of a new and greater plan that transcends their own petty little strategies. So when this new and greater thing comes about, they see it as competition to their own apostolates, and they stop at nothing to try and shut them down. It is precisely these “good Catholics” who have decided that there cannot be such a thing as truly Living in God’s Will on this earth, so they now dedicate themselves to persecuting the followers of the Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta. But that is only one example of, tragically, very many.
6)To Live in God is Even Greater than for Him to Live in Us
Now this is profound and groundbreaking, because it is almost verbatim a teaching from Jesus’ words to Luisa. He says, essentially, that Him living in the soul is good. He has long done so — in all humans, through actual grace; in the baptized, through sanctifying grace; and substantially in our very bodies, through the Eucharist. But now the time has come for an even greater sanctity; for us to Live in His Will.
7)The Devil is Real and We Pray for Deliverance from him, not Mere Abstract Evil, in each Our Father
Many have long pointed out this weakness in the current translation of the Lord’s Prayer, but finally we have the Magisterium itself revealing it! Indeed, the petitions of the Our Father are the most important petitions we can make. And the final petition of this prayer really is asking God for protection against a literal person — one of an incomprehensible degree of malice toward us, with preternatural power to boot. Before this, Pope Francis points out the absurdity of chalking all the Bible’s references to demonic activity up to psychological disorder. Will the liberal “devil is only a symbol” Catholics listen?
8)You Need to Use Zealously Every Weapon in the Catholic Arsenal
In continuing to discuss the Devil, reminding us that he is no mere myth, Pope Francis proceeds to delineate methods of resisting him. If you were hoping to find in Francis a deliverance from all these “antiquated rituals and remnants of medieval Catholicism,” you have hoped utterly in vain. Pope Francis is demanding that we make full use of them; it is safe to assume that he would have readily prolonged this list if he felt it would not provide an unbalanced paragraph. So much for Protestantized Catholicism.
9)Be Very Worried if You Think You’re Safe Merely Because You Think You Aren’t Committing Mortal Sins
“So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:16. How fitting that this Chapter and Verse mirrors the far more often quoted John 3:16, for so many who think only of the latter Biblical Quote choose to forget that lukewarmness is not an option. And oh, how many “experienced” Catholics have adopted an apparently mortal-sin-free life, only to allow every imaginable vice to dominate their conduct in ways that, although prevented from resulting in obvious grievous sin, nevertheless corrupt their souls to the core.
The fruits are obvious to everyone but themselves: They gossip, the constantly engage in idle chatter, they waste away their days on vanities, they indulge their taste buds all day long, they are constantly trying to impress the world with their Facebook stunts, they never perform works of mercy, they somehow never have time to pray, they think and speak only about their own amusements, they readily “veg” in front of worldly Television shows, they care only about their own family and friends and tiny little social circles, and the list goes on. And they actually deceive themselves into thinking their souls are fine and dandy just because their lives are free of obvious mortal sins and they go to Church on Sundays. And then they have the audacity to wonder why they have no peace in their hearts and their lives are full of discord. Pope Francis is striving here to rid the Church of this malignant and terminal, albeit hidden, cancer.
10)All Christians Should do an Examination of Conscience Every Day
Pope Francis, in this Exhortation and elsewhere, is very clear that we are all called to be saints but this does not mean restricting the freedom to choose our own spiritual regimen, nor does it mean we all must spend long hours every day in Church. Thus, in the “spirit of Pope Francis,” some have foolishly and wrongly decided this means they can be free spirits and abandon the treasury of devotions and prayers that the Church recommends to us. How foolish indeed! That completely contradicts what Francis has said here and elsewhere. For example, he has also asked all Catholics to pray the Rosary every day. Francis is not anyone’s ticket out of what the Church and the Saints have always asked of us. In fact, he is often even more insistent than his predecessors. Here, he points out that an Examination of Conscience is a necessary part of every Catholic’s daily prayer regimen. So too is the Rosary. So too is a morning offering. So too is sporadic prayer throughout the day. So too (in my opinion) is the Divine Mercy Chaplet and other things. Add all these things together and they do not sum up to an amount of time that anyone, even the busiest, is incapable of. For indeed, Pope Francis also here teaches:
11)You Need to Always be Open to the Comfortable Plan You’ve Crafted for Your Life Being Utterly Shattered by God’s Will
For many, religion fits nicely into their lives as a (statistically proven, even!) method of helping calm the nerves, give an anchor, make one nicer, give a community, and provide all sorts of other socially acceptable virtues. That is not religion any more than a mere roommate is a spouse. The truly religious person is open to anything that God’s Will brings — no matter how much it contradicts and overturns one’s own inclinations, desires, and plans. However, unless God’s Will is actually sincerely and zealously sought, this openness is nothing but an empty — and even deceitful — theory. We must not only pray often, and pray long, but pray sincerely — trying our best to discern, through our prayer, the Will of God for us instead of concocting imaginative fantasies about what we wish his Will was for us.
12)Notwithstanding Anything You May Think is to the Contrary, the Magisterium Must Always be Obeyed
With all his talk of freshness, openness to the spirit, repudiation of rigidity and and overemphasis on doctrine, etc., one may be tempted to suppose that Francis if finally giving us a free pass to contradict those “stuffy old Magisterial precepts” that “dared to restrict the Spirit blowing where it will”! Precepts contained in, for example, Familiaris Consortio, Humanae Vitae, Casti Connubi, Veritatis Splendor, and others like them.
Nonsense. And Pope Francis himself says that is nonsense. The Magisterium guards the Gospel; and both must be obeyed always, absolutely, and without reservation. Discernment is not and never will be your subtle entry way into contradicting the teachings of the Church, which can never and will never change.