Some may be asked, through God's grace, for grand gestures of holiness – as can be seen in the lives of many of the saints, Francis said – but many people are called to live the mission of holiness in a more ordinary way, and in the context of their vocation.
However large or small one's call seems, Francis said that acts of charity are always undertaken "by God's grace," not as people "sufficient unto ourselves, but rather 'as good stewards of the manifold grace of God' (1 Peter 4:10)," he said.
The pope offered several practical recommendations for living out these "small gestures." In addition to the frequent reception of the sacraments and attendance at Mass, he said that in the Beatitudes Jesus explains "with great simplicity what it means to be holy."
He also said that a way to practice holiness is through the works of mercy, though he warned that to think good works can be separated from a personal relationship with God and openness to grace is to make Christianity into "a sort of NGO."
The saints, on the other hand, show us that "mental prayer, the love of God and the reading of the Gospel" in no way detract from "passionate and effective commitment to their neighbors."
The pope highlighted several qualities he finds especially important for living holiness in today's culture, including: perseverance, patience, humility, joy, a sense of humor, boldness, and passion.
Boldness and passion, he said, are important in order to avoid despondency or mediocrity, which he said can weaken us in the ongoing spiritual battle against evil.
In the journey toward holiness, "the cultivation of all that is good, progress in the spiritual life and growth in love are the best counterbalance to evil," he said, emphasizing that the existence of the devil is not a myth or an abstract idea, but a "personal being that assails us."
"Those who choose to remain neutral, who are satisfied with little, who renounce the ideal of giving themselves generously to the Lord, will never hold out" against temptation, he stated.
"For this spiritual combat, we can count on the powerful weapons that the Lord has given us: faith-filled prayer, meditation on the word of God, the celebration of Mass, Eucharistic adoration, sacramental Reconciliation, works of charity, community life, missionary outreach," he listed.
About the importance of prayer on the path to holiness, the pope said that though "the Lord speaks to us in a variety of ways, at work, through others and at every moment… we simply cannot do without the silence of prolonged prayer."
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"Naturally, this attitude of listening entails obedience to the Gospel as the ultimate standard, but also to the Magisterium that guards it," he stated, "as we seek to find in the treasury of the Church whatever is most fruitful for the 'today' of salvation."
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States bishops' conference, praised the exhortation in a statement released Monday, saying: "In this exhortation, Pope Francis is very clear – he is doing his duty as the Vicar of Christ, by strongly urging each and every Christian to freely, and without any qualifications, acknowledge and be open to what God wants them to be – that is 'to be holy, as He is holy' (1 Pet 1:15). The mission entrusted to each of us in the waters of baptism was simple – by God's grace and power, we are called to become saints."