Bishops welcome papal exhortation on universal call to holiness

Pope Francis at the general audience in St Peters Square on January 31 2018 Credit Daniel Ibanez CNA Pope Francis at the General Audience in St. Peter's Square, Jan. 31, 2018. | Daniel Ibanez/CNA.

Following the publication of Pope Francis's third apostolic exhortation, bishops in the English-speaking world have applauded Gaudete et exsultate for challenging Catholics to strive for holiness.

The exhortation, dated March 19, is on the call to holiness in today's world.

Bishop James Conley of Lincoln termed Gaudete et exsultate "a pro-life call", writing in his April 13 column for the Southern Nebraska Register that what he has read of it already "is wise, direct, and encouraging."

"The idea that every single person, without exception, is created in the image of God means just that: that every human life has value and dignity, and that our choices must always endeavor to respect, protect and uphold that unique dignity," the Nebraska bishop wrote.

"Again, as a long-time pro-life activist, I want to be clear: commitment to ending abortion will never justify blatantly disregarding the dignity of all people, especially those subject to injustice."

The good news, he continued, is that "in decades of pro-life work, I have rarely, if ever, encountered Catholics who only take seriously the lives of the unborn. When I encounter pro-life people in this country, I notice that they are also the people running parish food pantries, giving sandwiches to the homeless even while they are praying at abortion clinics, adopting foster children, and caring for their neighbors."

"The pope is right: we cannot uphold the sacredness of life for the unborn while disregarding it for those who are born. I thank God that the pro-life people I have met have not exhibited this attitude – that instead, they have been witnesses of charity and generosity."

Pope Francis' description of the Church as a field hospital is apt because there, "those who are closest to death are usually the first to be seen. This is not a rejection of the dignity of all, or a denial that all deserve to be treated with mercy and love, it is an affirmation of the extraordinary gift of human life," the bishop wrote.

Bishop Conley noted that Francis is "right to call to accountability political leaders who profess support for the unborn, but do not exhibit compassion for other people suffering injustice. We need to insist that our politicians work to end abortion, and, at the very same time, that they work to protect the sovereignty of families, the rights of immigrants and laborers, and the dignity of the poor and the vulnerable. We ask our politicians to be consistent in their commitment to human dignity, which is why blind partisanship is inconsistent with our faith."

Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh noted April 9 that in the exhortation, Pope Francis has reinforced the Second Vatican Council's "essential teaching" of the universal call to holiness.

"The publication of today's Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis is a great opportunity for all of us, lay, ordained and consecrated, to refocus our lives on what is the central point of our faith in Jesus," Archbishop Martin stated.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the US bishops' conference, wrote that "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."

Pope Francis is in the exhortation clearly urging "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 [God] is holy.'"

Cardinal DiNardo pointed out that the Pope is encouraging this pursuit of holiness through the challenges of daily life.

"The Holy Father describes how holiness comes through the daily struggles each of us face. In the ordinary course of each day, the Pope reminds us, 'We need to recognize and combat our aggressive and selfish inclinations, and not let them take root.'"

Other American bishops, like Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Arlington, and Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, have also stressed the importance of undertaking practical holiness through ordinary events.

Archbishop Gomez, in his April 10 column at The Angelus, called Gaudete et exsultate "a beautiful and practical reflection on the meaning of our Christian lives."

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"All of us, every baptized Catholic, need to understand how important we are, what our lives mean in the eyes of God, in the light of his beautiful plan for creation. The meaning of our lives is to be saints, to be holy," the Los Angeles archbishop wrote.

"Pope Francis also wants us to know that holiness is personal, but it does not isolate us from others," he added.

In the Arlington Catholic Herald, Bishop Burbidge wrote that the pursuit of holiness is a constant battle against the false promises of sin, which must be counteracted with a renewed commitment to prayer and the sacraments. He also said Catholics must foster works of mercy, joy, and community.

Pope Francis, he said, "invites all of us to examine and discern the concrete 'risks, challenges and opportunities' which we experience as we attempt to answer the call to holiness. He confidently and joyfully reflects on the places in our everyday lives where this call to holiness is tested, including our families, communities, Church, and use of digital media."

Bishop Bambera agreed, adding that Pope Francis is encouraging Catholics to share compassion with the most vulnerable.

"The Holy Father calls all of us to bear witness to God in our everyday lives and in all that we do, in particular by treating everyone we encounter with dignity and respect, especially the most vulnerable and those in need of our compassion and assistance – the unborn, the poor and destitute, migrants and refugees," he said in an April 10 statement.

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