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1. “REJOICE AND BE GLAD” (Mt 5:12), Jesus tells those per­se­cut­ed or humil­i­at­ed for his sake. The Lord asks every­thing of us, and in return he offers us true life, the hap­pi­ness for which we were cre­at­ed. He wants us to be saints and not to set­tle for a bland and mediocre exis­tence. The call to holi­ness is present in var­i­ous ways from the very first pages of the Bible. We see it expressed in the Lord’s words to Abra­ham: “Walk before me, and be blame­less” (Gen 17:1).

2. What fol­lows is not meant to be a trea­tise on holi­ness, con­tain­ing def­i­n­i­tions and dis­tinc­tions help­ful for under­stand­ing this impor­tant sub­ject, or a dis­cus­sion of the var­i­ous means of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. My mod­est goal is to repro­pose the call to holi­ness in a prac­ti­cal way for our own time, with all its risks, chal­lenges and oppor­tu­ni­ties. For the Lord has cho­sen each one of us “to be holy and blame­less before him in love” (Eph 1:4).





3. The Let­ter to the Hebrews presents a num­ber of tes­ti­monies that encour­age us to “run with per­se­ver­ance the race that is set before us” (12:1). It speaks of Abra­ham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon and oth­ers (cf. 11:1–12:3). Above all, it invites us to real­ize that “a great cloud of wit­ness­es” (12:1) impels us to advance con­stant­ly towards the goal. These wit­ness­es may include our own moth­ers, grand­moth­ers or oth­er loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Their lives may not always have been per­fect, yet even amid their faults and fail­ings they kept mov­ing for­ward and proved pleas­ing to the Lord.

4. The saints now in God’s pres­ence pre­serve their bonds of love and com­mu­nion with us. The Book of Rev­e­la­tion attests to this when it speaks of the inter­ces­sion of the mar­tyrs: “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the wit­ness they had borne; they cried out with a loud voice, ‘O sov­er­eign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge?’” (6:9–10). Each of us can say: “Sur­round­ed, led and guid­ed by the friends of God… I do not have to car­ry alone what, in truth, I could nev­er car­ry alone. All the saints of God are there to pro­tect me, to sus­tain me and to car­ry me”.[1]

5. The process­es of beat­i­fi­ca­tion and can­on­iza­tion rec­og­nize the signs of hero­ic virtue, the sac­ri­fice of one’s life in mar­tyr­dom, and cer­tain cas­es where a life is con­stant­ly offered for oth­ers, even until death. This shows an exem­plary imi­ta­tion of Christ, one wor­thy of the admi­ra­tion of the faith­ful.[2] We can think, for exam­ple, of Blessed Maria Gabriel­la Saghed­du, who offered her life for the uni­ty of Christians.


6. Nor need we think only of those already beat­i­fied and can­on­ized. The Holy Spir­it bestows holi­ness in abun­dance among God’s holy and faith­ful peo­ple, for “it has pleased God to make men and women holy and to save them, not as indi­vid­u­als with­out any bond between them, but rather as a peo­ple who might acknowl­edge him in truth and serve him in holi­ness”.[3] In sal­va­tion his­to­ry, the Lord saved one peo­ple. We are nev­er com­plete­ly our­selves unless we belong to a peo­ple. That is why no one is saved alone, as an iso­lat­ed indi­vid­ual. Rather, God draws us to him­self, tak­ing into account the com­plex fab­ric of inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships present in a human com­mu­ni­ty. God want­ed to enter into the life and his­to­ry of a people.

7. I like to con­tem­plate the holi­ness present in the patience of God’s peo­ple: in those par­ents who raise their chil­dren with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to sup­port their fam­i­lies, in the sick, in elder­ly reli­gious who nev­er lose their smile. In their dai­ly per­se­ver­ance I see the holi­ness of the Church mil­i­tant. Very often it is a holi­ness found in our next-door neigh­bours, those who, liv­ing in our midst, reflect God’s pres­ence. We might call them “the mid­dle class of holi­ness”.[4]

8. Let us be spurred on by the signs of holi­ness that the Lord shows us through the hum­blest mem­bers of that peo­ple which “shares also in Christ’s prophet­ic office, spread­ing abroad a liv­ing wit­ness to him, espe­cial­ly by means of a life of faith and char­i­ty”.[5] We should con­sid­er the fact that, as Saint Tere­sa Bene­dic­ta of the Cross sug­gests, real his­to­ry is made by so many of them. As she writes: “The great­est fig­ures of prophe­cy and sanc­ti­ty step forth out of the dark­est night. But for the most part, the for­ma­tive stream of the mys­ti­cal life remains invis­i­ble. Cer­tain­ly the most deci­sive turn­ing points in world his­to­ry are sub­stan­tial­ly co-deter­mined by souls whom no his­to­ry book ever men­tions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the deci­sive turn­ing points in our per­son­al lives on the day when all that is hid­den is revealed”.[6]

9. Holi­ness is the most attrac­tive face of the Church. But even out­side the Catholic Church and in very dif­fer­ent con­texts, the Holy Spir­it rais­es up “signs of his pres­ence which help Christ’s fol­low­ers”.[7] Saint John Paul II remind­ed us that “the wit­ness to Christ borne even to the shed­ding of blood has become a com­mon inher­i­tance of Catholics, Ortho­dox, Angli­cans and Protes­tants”.[8] In the mov­ing ecu­meni­cal com­mem­o­ra­tion held in the Colos­se­um dur­ing the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, he stat­ed that the mar­tyrs are “a her­itage which speaks more pow­er­ful­ly than all the caus­es of divi­sion”.[9]


10. All this is impor­tant. Yet with this Exhor­ta­tion I would like to insist pri­mar­i­ly on the call to holi­ness that the Lord address­es to each of us, the call that he also address­es, per­son­al­ly, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Sec­ond Vat­i­can Coun­cil stat­ed this clear­ly: “Strength­ened by so many and such great means of sal­va­tion, all the faith­ful, what­ev­er their con­di­tion or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that per­fect holi­ness by which the Father him­self is per­fect”.[10]

11. “Each in his or her own way” the Coun­cil says. We should not grow dis­cour­aged before exam­ples of holi­ness that appear unat­tain­able. There are some tes­ti­monies that may prove help­ful and inspir­ing, but that we are not meant to copy, for that could even lead us astray from the one spe­cif­ic path that the Lord has in mind for us. The impor­tant thing is that each believ­er dis­cern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of them­selves, the most per­son­al gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hope­less­ly try­ing to imi­tate some­thing not meant for them. We are all called to be wit­ness­es, but there are many actu­al ways of bear­ing wit­ness.[11] Indeed, when the great mys­tic, Saint John of the Cross, wrote his Spir­i­tu­al Can­ti­cle, he pre­ferred to avoid hard and fast rules for all. He explained that his vers­es were com­posed so that every­one could ben­e­fit from them “in his or her own way”.[12] For God’s life is com­mu­ni­cat­ed “to some in one way and to oth­ers in anoth­er”.[13]

12. With­in these var­i­ous forms, I would stress too that the “genius of woman” is seen in fem­i­nine styles of holi­ness, which are an essen­tial means of reflect­ing God’s holi­ness in this world. Indeed, in times when women tend­ed to be most ignored or over­looked, the Holy Spir­it raised up saints whose attrac­tive­ness pro­duced new spir­i­tu­al vigour and impor­tant reforms in the Church. We can men­tion Saint Hilde­gard of Bin­gen, Saint Brid­get, Saint Cather­ine of Siena, Saint Tere­sa of Avi­la and Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. But I think too of all those unknown or for­got­ten women who, each in her own way, sus­tained and trans­formed fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties by the pow­er of their witness.

13. This should excite and encour­age us to give our all and to embrace that unique plan that God willed for each of us from eter­ni­ty: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I con­se­crat­ed you” (Jer 1:5).


14. To be holy does not require being a bish­op, a priest or a reli­gious. We are fre­quent­ly tempt­ed to think that holi­ness is only for those who can with­draw from ordi­nary affairs to spend much time in prayer. That is not the case. We are all called to be holy by liv­ing our lives with love and by bear­ing wit­ness in every­thing we do, wher­ev­er we find our­selves. Are you called to the con­se­crat­ed life? Be holy by liv­ing out your com­mit­ment with joy. Are you mar­ried? Be holy by lov­ing and car­ing for your hus­band or wife, as Christ does for the Church. Do you work for a liv­ing? Be holy by labour­ing with integri­ty and skill in the ser­vice of your broth­ers and sis­ters. Are you a par­ent or grand­par­ent? Be holy by patient­ly teach­ing the lit­tle ones how to fol­low Jesus. Are you in a posi­tion of author­i­ty? Be holy by work­ing for the com­mon good and renounc­ing per­son­al gain.[14]

15. Let the grace of your bap­tism bear fruit in a path of holi­ness. Let every­thing be open to God; turn to him in every sit­u­a­tion. Do not be dis­mayed, for the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it enables you to do this, and holi­ness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spir­it in your life (cf. Gal 5:22–23). When you feel the temp­ta­tion to dwell on your own weak­ness, raise your eyes to Christ cru­ci­fied and say: “Lord, I am a poor sin­ner, but you can work the mir­a­cle of mak­ing me a lit­tle bit bet­ter”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sin­ners, you will find every­thing you need to grow towards holi­ness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scrip­ture, the sacra­ments, holy places, liv­ing com­mu­ni­ties, the wit­ness of the saints and a mul­ti­fac­eted beau­ty that pro­ceeds from God’s love, “like a bride bedecked with jew­els” (Is 61:10).

16. This holi­ness to which the Lord calls you will grow through small ges­tures. Here is an exam­ple: a woman goes shop­ping, she meets a neigh­bour and they begin to speak, and the gos­sip starts. But she says in her heart: “No, I will not speak bad­ly of any­one”. This is a step for­ward in holi­ness. Lat­er, at home, one of her chil­dren wants to talk to her about his hopes and dreams, and even though she is tired, she sits down and lis­tens with patience and love. That is anoth­er sac­ri­fice that brings holi­ness. Lat­er she expe­ri­ences some anx­i­ety, but recall­ing the love of the Vir­gin Mary, she takes her rosary and prays with faith. Yet anoth­er path of holi­ness. Lat­er still, she goes out onto the street, encoun­ters a poor per­son and stops to say a kind word to him. One more step.

17. At times, life presents great chal­lenges. Through them, the Lord calls us anew to a con­ver­sion that can make his grace more evi­dent in our lives, “in order that we may share his holi­ness” (Heb 12:10). At oth­er times, we need only find a more per­fect way of doing what we are already doing: “There are inspi­ra­tions that tend sole­ly to per­fect in an extra­or­di­nary way the ordi­nary things we do in life”.[15] When Car­di­nal François-Xavier Nguyên van Thuân was impris­oned, he refused to waste time wait­ing for the day he would be set free. Instead, he chose “to live the present moment, fill­ing it to the brim with love”. He decid­ed: “I will seize the occa­sions that present them­selves every day; I will accom­plish ordi­nary actions in an extra­or­di­nary way”.[16]

18. In this way, led by God’s grace, we shape by many small ges­tures the holi­ness God has willed for us, not as men and women suf­fi­cient unto our­selves but rather “as good stew­ards of the man­i­fold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). The New Zealand bish­ops right­ly teach us that we are capa­ble of lov­ing with the Lord’s uncon­di­tion­al love, because the risen Lord shares his pow­er­ful life with our frag­ile lives: “His love set no lim­its and, once giv­en, was nev­er tak­en back. It was uncon­di­tion­al and remained faith­ful. To love like that is not easy because we are often so weak. But just to try to love as Christ loved us shows that Christ shares his own risen life with us. In this way, our lives demon­strate his pow­er at work – even in the midst of human weak­ness”.[17]


19. A Chris­t­ian can­not think of his or her mis­sion on earth with­out see­ing it as a path of holi­ness, for “this is the will of God, your sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion” (1 Thess 4:3). Each saint is a mis­sion, planned by the Father to reflect and embody, at a spe­cif­ic moment in his­to­ry, a cer­tain aspect of the Gospel.

20. That mis­sion has its fullest mean­ing in Christ, and can only be under­stood through him. At its core, holi­ness is expe­ri­enc­ing, in union with Christ, the mys­ter­ies of his life. It con­sists in unit­ing our­selves to the Lord’s death and res­ur­rec­tion in a unique and per­son­al way, con­stant­ly dying and ris­ing anew with him. But it can also entail repro­duc­ing in our own lives var­i­ous aspects of Jesus’ earth­ly life: his hid­den life, his life in com­mu­ni­ty, his close­ness to the out­cast, his pover­ty and oth­er ways in which he showed his self-sac­ri­fic­ing love. The con­tem­pla­tion of these mys­ter­ies, as Saint Ignatius of Loy­ola point­ed out, leads us to incar­nate them in our choic­es and atti­tudes.[18] Because “every­thing in Jesus’ life was a sign of his mys­tery”,[19] “Christ’s whole life is a rev­e­la­tion of the Father”,[20] “Christ’s whole life is a mys­tery of redemp­tion”,[21] “Christ’s whole life is a mys­tery of reca­pit­u­la­tion”.[22] “Christ enables us to live in him all that he him­self lived, and he lives it in us”.[23]

21. The Father’s plan is Christ, and our­selves in him. In the end, it is Christ who loves in us, for “holi­ness is noth­ing oth­er than char­i­ty lived to the full”.[24] As a result, “the mea­sure of our holi­ness stems from the stature that Christ achieves in us, to the extent that, by the pow­er of the Holy Spir­it, we mod­el our whole life on his”.[25] Every saint is a mes­sage which the Holy Spir­it takes from the rich­es of Jesus Christ and gives to his people.

22. To rec­og­nize the word that the Lord wish­es to speak to us through one of his saints, we do not need to get caught up in details, for there we might also encounter mis­takes and fail­ures. Not every­thing a saint says is com­plete­ly faith­ful to the Gospel; not every­thing he or she does is authen­tic or per­fect. What we need to con­tem­plate is the total­i­ty of their life, their entire jour­ney of growth in holi­ness, the reflec­tion of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their over­all mean­ing as a per­son.[26]

23. This is a pow­er­ful sum­mons to all of us. You too need to see the entire­ty of your life as a mis­sion. Try to do so by lis­ten­ing to God in prayer and rec­og­niz­ing the signs that he gives you. Always ask the Spir­it what Jesus expects from you at every moment of your life and in every deci­sion you must make, so as to dis­cern its place in the mis­sion you have received. Allow the Spir­it to forge in you the per­son­al mys­tery that can reflect Jesus Christ in today’s world.

24. May you come to real­ize what that word is, the mes­sage of Jesus that God wants to speak to the world by your life. Let your­self be trans­formed. Let your­self be renewed by the Spir­it, so that this can hap­pen, lest you fail in your pre­cious mis­sion. The Lord will bring it to ful­fil­ment despite your mis­takes and mis­steps, pro­vid­ed that you do not aban­don the path of love but remain ever open to his super­nat­ur­al grace, which puri­fies and enlightens.


25. Just as you can­not under­stand Christ apart from the king­dom he came to bring, so too your per­son­al mis­sion is insep­a­ra­ble from the build­ing of that king­dom: “Strive first for the king­dom of God and his right­eous­ness” (Mt 6:33). Your iden­ti­fi­ca­tion with Christ and his will involves a com­mit­ment to build with him that king­dom of love, jus­tice and uni­ver­sal peace. Christ him­self wants to expe­ri­ence this with you, in all the efforts and sac­ri­fices that it entails, but also in all the joy and enrich­ment it brings. You can­not grow in holi­ness with­out com­mit­ting your­self, body and soul, to giv­ing your best to this endeavour.

26. It is not healthy to love silence while flee­ing inter­ac­tion with oth­ers, to want peace and qui­et while avoid­ing activ­i­ty, to seek prayer while dis­dain­ing ser­vice. Every­thing can be accept­ed and inte­grat­ed into our life in this world, and become a part of our path to holi­ness. We are called to be con­tem­pla­tives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holi­ness by respon­si­bly and gen­er­ous­ly car­ry­ing out our prop­er mission.

27. Could the Holy Spir­it urge us to car­ry out a mis­sion and then ask us to aban­don it, or not ful­ly engage in it, so as to pre­serve our inner peace? Yet there are times when we are tempt­ed to rel­e­gate pas­toral engage­ment or com­mit­ment in the world to sec­ond place, as if these were “dis­trac­tions” along the path to growth in holi­ness and inte­ri­or peace. We can for­get that “life does not have a mis­sion, but is a mis­sion”.[27]

28. Need­less to say, any­thing done out of anx­i­ety, pride or the need to impress oth­ers will not lead to holi­ness. We are chal­lenged to show our com­mit­ment in such a way that every­thing we do has evan­gel­i­cal mean­ing and iden­ti­fies us all the more with Jesus Christ. We often speak, for exam­ple, of the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the cat­e­chist, the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of the dioce­san priest­hood, the spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of work. For the same rea­son, in Evan­gelii Gaudi­um I con­clud­ed by speak­ing of a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of mis­sion, in Lauda­to Si’of an eco­log­i­cal spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, and in Amor­is Laeti­tia of a spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of fam­i­ly life.

29. This does not mean ignor­ing the need for moments of qui­et, soli­tude and silence before God. Quite the con­trary. The pres­ence of con­stant­ly new gad­gets, the excite­ment of trav­el and an end­less array of con­sumer goods at times leave no room for God’s voice to be heard. We are over­whelmed by words, by super­fi­cial plea­sures and by an increas­ing din, filled not by joy but rather by the dis­con­tent of those whose lives have lost mean­ing. How can we fail to real­ize the need to stop this rat race and to recov­er the per­son­al space need­ed to car­ry on a heart­felt dia­logue with God? Find­ing that space may prove painful but it is always fruit­ful. Soon­er or lat­er, we have to face our true selves and let the Lord enter. This may not hap­pen unless “we see our­selves star­ing into the abyss of a fright­ful temp­ta­tion, or have the dizzy­ing sen­sa­tion of stand­ing on the precipice of utter despair, or find our­selves com­plete­ly alone and aban­doned”.[28] In such sit­u­a­tions, we find the deep­est moti­va­tion for liv­ing ful­ly our com­mit­ment to our work.

30. The same dis­trac­tions that are omnipresent in today’s world also make us tend to abso­l­u­tize our free time, so that we can give our­selves over com­plete­ly to the devices that pro­vide us with enter­tain­ment or ephemer­al plea­sures.[29] As a result, we come to resent our mis­sion, our com­mit­ment grows slack, and our gen­er­ous and ready spir­it of ser­vice begins to flag. This dena­tures our spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence. Can any spir­i­tu­al fer­vour be sound when it dwells along­side sloth in evan­ge­liza­tion or in ser­vice to others?

31. We need a spir­it of holi­ness capa­ble of fill­ing both our soli­tude and our ser­vice, our per­son­al life and our evan­ge­liz­ing efforts, so that every moment can be an expres­sion of self-sac­ri­fic­ing love in the Lord’s eyes. In this way, every minute of our lives can be a step along the path to growth in holiness.


32. Do not be afraid of holi­ness. It will take away none of your ener­gy, vital­i­ty or joy. On the con­trary, you will become what the Father had in mind when he cre­at­ed you, and you will be faith­ful to your deep­est self. To depend on God sets us free from every form of enslave­ment and leads us to rec­og­nize our great dig­ni­ty. We see this in Saint Josephine Bakhi­ta: “Abduct­ed and sold into slav­ery at the ten­der age of sev­en, she suf­fered much at the hands of cru­el mas­ters. But she came to under­stand the pro­found truth that God, and not man, is the true Mas­ter of every human being, of every human life. This expe­ri­ence became a source of great wis­dom for this hum­ble daugh­ter of Africa”.[30]

33. To the extent that each Chris­t­ian grows in holi­ness, he or she will bear greater fruit for our world. The bish­ops of West Africa have observed that “we are being called in the spir­it of the New Evan­ge­liza­tion to be evan­ge­lized and to evan­ge­lize through the empow­er­ing of all you, the bap­tized, to take up your roles as salt of the earth and light of the world wher­ev­er you find your­selves”.[31]

34. Do not be afraid to set your sights high­er, to allow your­self to be loved and lib­er­at­ed by God. Do not be afraid to let your­self be guid­ed by the Holy Spir­it. Holi­ness does not make you less human, since it is an encounter between your weak­ness and the pow­er of God’s grace. For in the words of León Bloy, when all is said and done, “the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint”.[32]




35. Here I would like to men­tion two false forms of holi­ness that can lead us astray: gnos­ti­cism and pela­gian­ism. They are two here­sies from ear­ly Chris­t­ian times, yet they con­tin­ue to plague us. In our times too, many Chris­tians, per­haps with­out real­iz­ing it, can be seduced by these decep­tive ideas, which reflect an anthro­pocen­tric imma­nen­tism dis­guised as Catholic truth.[33] Let us take a look at these two forms of doc­tri­nal or dis­ci­pli­nary secu­ri­ty that give rise “toa nar­cis­sis­tic and author­i­tar­i­an elit­ism, where­by instead of evan­ge­liz­ing, one analy­ses and clas­si­fies oth­ers, and instead of open­ing the door to grace, one exhausts his or her ener­gies in inspect­ing and ver­i­fy­ing. In nei­ther case is one real­ly con­cerned about Jesus Christ or oth­ers”.[34]


36. Gnos­ti­cism pre­sumes “a pure­ly sub­jec­tive faith whose only inter­est is a cer­tain expe­ri­ence or a set of ideas and bits of infor­ma­tion which are meant to con­sole and enlight­en, but which ulti­mate­ly keep one impris­oned in his or her own thoughts and feel­ings”.[35]

An intel­lect with­out God and with­out flesh

37. Thanks be to God, through­out the his­to­ry of the Church it has always been clear that a person’s per­fec­tion is mea­sured not by the infor­ma­tion or knowl­edge they pos­sess, but by the depth of their char­i­ty. “Gnos­tics” do not under­stand this, because they judge oth­ers based on their abil­i­ty to under­stand the com­plex­i­ty of cer­tain doc­trines. They think of the intel­lect as sep­a­rate from the flesh, and thus become inca­pable of touch­ing Christ’s suf­fer­ing flesh in oth­ers, locked up as they are in an ency­clopae­dia of abstrac­tions. In the end, by dis­em­body­ing the mys­tery, they pre­fer “a God with­out Christ, a Christ with­out the Church, a Church with­out her peo­ple”.[36]

38. Cer­tain­ly this is a super­fi­cial con­ceit: there is much move­ment on the sur­face, but the mind is nei­ther deeply moved nor affect­ed. Still, gnos­ti­cism exer­cis­es a decep­tive attrac­tion for some peo­ple, since the gnos­tic approach is strict and alleged­ly pure, and can appear to pos­sess a cer­tain har­mo­ny or order that encom­pass­es everything.

39. Here we have to be care­ful. I am not refer­ring to a ratio­nal­ism inim­i­cal to Chris­t­ian faith. It can be present with­in the Church, both among the laity in parish­es and teach­ers of phi­los­o­phy and the­ol­o­gy in cen­tres of for­ma­tion. Gnos­tics think that their expla­na­tions can make the entire­ty of the faith and the Gospel per­fect­ly com­pre­hen­si­ble. They abso­l­u­tize their own the­o­ries and force oth­ers to sub­mit to their way of think­ing. A healthy and hum­ble use of rea­son in order to reflect on the the­o­log­i­cal and moral teach­ing of the Gospel is one thing. It is anoth­er to reduce Jesus’ teach­ing to a cold and harsh log­ic that seeks to dom­i­nate every­thing.[37]

A doc­trine with­out mystery

40. Gnos­ti­cism is one of the most sin­is­ter ide­olo­gies because, while undu­ly exalt­ing knowl­edge or a spe­cif­ic expe­ri­ence, it con­sid­ers its own vision of real­i­ty to be per­fect. Thus, per­haps with­out even real­iz­ing it, this ide­ol­o­gy feeds on itself and becomes even more myopic. It can become all the more illu­so­ry when it masks itself as a dis­em­bod­ied spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. For gnos­ti­cism “by its very nature seeks to domes­ti­cate the mys­tery”,[38] whether the mys­tery of God and his grace, or the mys­tery of oth­ers’ lives.

41. When some­body has an answer for every ques­tion, it is a sign that they are not on the right road. They may well be false prophets, who use reli­gion for their own pur­pos­es, to pro­mote their own psy­cho­log­i­cal or intel­lec­tu­al the­o­ries. God infi­nite­ly tran­scends us; he is full of sur­pris­es. We are not the ones to deter­mine when and how we will encounter him; the exact times and places of that encounter are not up to us. Some­one who wants every­thing to be clear and sure pre­sumes to con­trol God’s transcendence.

42. Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mys­te­ri­ous­ly present in the life of every per­son, in a way that he him­self choos­es, and we can­not exclude this by our pre­sumed cer­tain­ties. Even when someone’s life appears com­plete­ly wrecked, even when we see it dev­as­tat­ed by vices or addic­tions, God is present there. If we let our­selves be guid­ed by the Spir­it rather than our own pre­con­cep­tions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life. This is part of the mys­tery that a gnos­tic men­tal­i­ty can­not accept, since it is beyond its control.

The lim­its of reason

43. It is not easy to grasp the truth that we have received from the Lord. And it is even more dif­fi­cult to express it. So we can­not claim that our way of under­stand­ing this truth autho­rizes us to exer­cise a strict super­vi­sion over oth­ers’ lives. Here I would note that in the Church there legit­i­mate­ly coex­ist dif­fer­ent ways of inter­pret­ing many aspects of doc­trine and Chris­t­ian life; in their vari­ety, they “help to express more clear­ly the immense rich­es of God’s word”. It is true that “for those who long for a mono­lith­ic body of doc­trine guard­ed by all and leav­ing no room for nuance, this might appear as unde­sir­able and lead­ing to con­fu­sion”.[39]Indeed, some cur­rents of gnos­ti­cism scorned the con­crete sim­plic­i­ty of the Gospel and attempt­ed to replace the trini­tar­i­an and incar­nate God with a supe­ri­or Uni­ty, where­in the rich diver­si­ty of our his­to­ry disappeared.

44. In effect, doc­trine, or bet­ter, our under­stand­ing and expres­sion of it, “is not a closed sys­tem, devoid of the dynam­ic capac­i­ty to pose ques­tions, doubts, inquiries… The ques­tions of our peo­ple, their suf­fer­ing, their strug­gles, their dreams, their tri­als and their wor­ries, all pos­sess an inter­pre­ta­tion­al val­ue that we can­not ignore if we want to take the prin­ci­ple of the incar­na­tion seri­ous­ly. Their won­der­ing helps us to won­der, their ques­tions ques­tion us”.[40]

45. A dan­ger­ous con­fu­sion can arise. We can think that because we know some­thing, or are able to explain it in cer­tain terms, we are already saints, per­fect and bet­ter than the “igno­rant mass­es”. Saint John Paul II warned of the temp­ta­tion on the part of those in the Church who are more high­ly edu­cat­ed “to feel some­how supe­ri­or to oth­er mem­bers of the faith­ful”.[41] In point of fact, what we think we know should always moti­vate us to respond more ful­ly to God’s love. Indeed, “you learn so as to live: the­ol­o­gy and holi­ness are insep­a­ra­ble”.[42]

46. When Saint Fran­cis of Assisi saw that some of his dis­ci­ples were engaged in teach­ing, he want­ed to avoid the temp­ta­tion to gnos­ti­cism. He wrote to Saint Antho­ny of Pad­ua: “I am pleased that you teach sacred the­ol­o­gy to the broth­ers, pro­vid­ed that… you do not extin­guish the spir­it of prayer and devo­tion dur­ing study of this kind”.[43] Fran­cis rec­og­nized the temp­ta­tion to turn the Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence into a set of intel­lec­tu­al exer­cis­es that dis­tance us from the fresh­ness of the Gospel. Saint Bonaven­ture, on the oth­er hand, point­ed out that true Chris­t­ian wis­dom can nev­er be sep­a­rat­ed from mer­cy towards our neigh­bour: “The great­est pos­si­ble wis­dom is to share fruit­ful­ly what we have to give… Even as mer­cy is the com­pan­ion of wis­dom, avarice is its ene­my”.[44] “There are activ­i­ties that, unit­ed to con­tem­pla­tion, do not pre­vent the lat­ter, but rather facil­i­tate it, such as works of mer­cy and devo­tion”.[45]


47. Gnos­ti­cism gave way to anoth­er heresy, like­wise present in our day. As time passed, many came to real­ize that it is not knowl­edge that bet­ters us or makes us saints, but the kind of life we lead. But this sub­tly led back to the old error of the gnos­tics, which was sim­ply trans­formed rather than eliminated.

48. The same pow­er that the gnos­tics attrib­uted to the intel­lect, oth­ers now began to attribute to the human will, to per­son­al effort. This was the case with the pela­gians and semi-pela­gians. Now it was not intel­li­gence that took the place of mys­tery and grace, but our human will. It was for­got­ten that every­thing “depends not on human will or exer­tion, but on God who shows mer­cy” (Rom 9:16) and that “he first loved us” (cf. 1 Jn 4:19).

A will lack­ing humility

49. Those who yield to this pela­gian or semi-pela­gian mind­set, even though they speak warm­ly of God’s grace, “ulti­mate­ly trust only in their own pow­ers and feel supe­ri­or to oth­ers because they observe cer­tain rules or remain intran­si­gent­ly faith­ful to a par­tic­u­lar Catholic style”.[46] When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accom­plished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are pos­si­ble by the human will, as if it were some­thing pure, per­fect, all-pow­er­ful, to which grace is then added. They fail to real­ize that “not every­one can do every­thing”,[47] and that in this life human weak­ness­es are not healed com­plete­ly and once for all by grace.[48] In every case, as Saint Augus­tine taught, God com­mands you to do what you can and to ask for what you can­not,[49] and indeed to pray to him humbly: “Grant what you com­mand, and com­mand what you will”.[50]

50. Ulti­mate­ly, the lack of a heart­felt and prayer­ful acknowl­edg­ment of our lim­i­ta­tions pre­vents grace from work­ing more effec­tive­ly with­in us, for no room is left for bring­ing about the poten­tial good that is part of a sin­cere and gen­uine jour­ney of growth.[51] Grace, pre­cise­ly because it builds on nature, does not make us super­hu­man all at once. That kind of think­ing would show too much con­fi­dence in our own abil­i­ties. Under­neath our ortho­doxy, our atti­tudes might not cor­re­spond to our talk about the need for grace, and in spe­cif­ic sit­u­a­tions we can end up putting lit­tle trust in it. Unless we can acknowl­edge our con­crete and lim­it­ed sit­u­a­tion, we will not be able to see the real and pos­si­ble steps that the Lord demands of us at every moment, once we are attract­ed and empow­ered by his gift. Grace acts in his­to­ry; ordi­nar­i­ly it takes hold of us and trans­forms us pro­gres­sive­ly.[52]If we reject this his­tor­i­cal and pro­gres­sive real­i­ty, we can actu­al­ly refuse and block grace, even as we extol it by our words.

51. When God speaks to Abra­ham, he tells him: “I am God Almighty, walk before me, and be blame­less” (Gen 17:1). In order to be blame­less, as he would have us, we need to live humbly in his pres­ence, cloaked in his glo­ry; we need to walk in union with him, rec­og­niz­ing his con­stant love in our lives. We need to lose our fear before that pres­ence which can only be for our good. God is the Father who gave us life and loves us great­ly. Once we accept him, and stop try­ing to live our lives with­out him, the anguish of lone­li­ness will dis­ap­pear (cf. Ps 139:23–24). In this way we will know the pleas­ing and per­fect will of the Lord (cf. Rom12:1–2) and allow him to mould us like a pot­ter (cf. Is 29:16). So often we say that God dwells in us, but it is bet­ter to say that we dwell in him, that he enables us to dwell in his light and love. He is our tem­ple; we ask to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of our life (cf. Ps 27:4). “For one day in your courts is bet­ter than a thou­sand else­where” (Ps 84:10). In him is our holiness.

An often over­looked Church teaching

52. The Church has repeat­ed­ly taught that we are jus­ti­fied not by our own works or efforts, but by the grace of the Lord, who always takes the ini­tia­tive. The Fathers of the Church, even before Saint Augus­tine, clear­ly expressed this fun­da­men­tal belief. Saint John Chrysos­tom said that God pours into us the very source of all his gifts even before we enter into bat­tle.[53] Saint Basil the Great remarked that the faith­ful glo­ry in God alone, for “they real­ize that they lack true jus­tice and are jus­ti­fied only through faith in Christ”.[54]

53. The Sec­ond Syn­od of Orange taught with firm author­i­ty that noth­ing human can demand, mer­it or buy the gift of divine grace, and that all coop­er­a­tion with it is a pri­or gift of that same grace: “Even the desire to be cleansed comes about in us through the out­pour­ing and work­ing of the Holy Spir­it”.[55] Sub­se­quent­ly, the Coun­cil of Trent, while empha­siz­ing the impor­tance of our coop­er­a­tion for spir­i­tu­al growth, reaf­firmed that dog­mat­ic teach­ing: “We are said to be jus­ti­fied gra­tu­itous­ly because noth­ing that pre­cedes jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, nei­ther faith nor works, mer­its the grace of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion; for ‘if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; oth­er­wise, grace would no longer be grace’ (Rom 11:6)”.[56]

54. The Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church also reminds us that the gift of grace “sur­pass­es the pow­er of human intel­lect and will”[57] and that “with regard to God, there is no strict right to any mer­it on the part of man. Between God and us there is an immea­sur­able inequal­i­ty”.[58] His friend­ship infi­nite­ly tran­scends us; we can­not buy it with our works, it can only be a gift born of his lov­ing ini­tia­tive. This invites us to live in joy­ful grat­i­tude for this com­plete­ly unmer­it­ed gift, since “after one has grace, the grace already pos­sessed can­not come under mer­it”.[59] The saints avoid­ed putting trust in their own works: “In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you emp­ty-hand­ed, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our jus­tices have stains in your sight”.[60]

55. This is one of the great con­vic­tions that the Church has come firm­ly to hold. It is so clear­ly expressed in the word of God that there can be no ques­tion of it. Like the supreme com­mand­ment of love, this truth should affect the way we live, for it flows from the heart of the Gospel and demands that we not only accept it intel­lec­tu­al­ly but also make it a source of con­ta­gious joy. Yet we can­not cel­e­brate this free gift of the Lord’s friend­ship unless we real­ize that our earth­ly life and our nat­ur­al abil­i­ties are his gift. We need “to acknowl­edge jubi­lant­ly that our life is essen­tial­ly a gift, and rec­og­nize that our free­dom is a grace. This is not easy today, in a world that thinks it can keep some­thing for itself, the fruits of its own cre­ativ­i­ty or free­dom”.[61]

56. Only on the basis of God’s gift, freely accept­ed and humbly received, can we coop­er­ate by our own efforts in our pro­gres­sive trans­for­ma­tion.[62] We must first belong to God, offer­ing our­selves to him who was there first, and entrust­ing to him our abil­i­ties, our efforts, our strug­gle against evil and our cre­ativ­i­ty, so that his free gift may grow and devel­op with­in us: “I appeal to you, there­fore, brethren, by the mer­cies of God, to present your bod­ies as a liv­ing sac­ri­fice, holy and accept­able to God” (Rom12:1). For that mat­ter, the Church has always taught that char­i­ty alone makes growth in the life of grace pos­si­ble, for “if I do not have love, I am noth­ing” (1 Cor 13:2).

New pela­gians

57. Still, some Chris­tians insist on tak­ing anoth­er path, that of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion by their own efforts, the wor­ship of the human will and their own abil­i­ties. The result is a self-cen­tred and elit­ist com­pla­cen­cy, bereft of true love. This finds expres­sion in a vari­ety of appar­ent­ly uncon­nect­ed ways of think­ing and act­ing: an obses­sion with the law, an absorp­tion with social and polit­i­cal advan­tages, a punc­til­ious con­cern for the Church’s litur­gy, doc­trine and pres­tige, a van­i­ty about the abil­i­ty to man­age prac­ti­cal mat­ters, and an exces­sive con­cern with pro­grammes of self-help and per­son­al ful­fil­ment. Some Chris­tians spend their time and ener­gy on these things, rather than let­ting them­selves be led by the Spir­it in the way of love, rather than being pas­sion­ate about com­mu­ni­cat­ing the beau­ty and the joy of the Gospel and seek­ing out the lost among the immense crowds that thirst for Christ.[63]

58. Not infre­quent­ly, con­trary to the prompt­ings of the Spir­it, the life of the Church can become a muse­um piece or the pos­ses­sion of a select few. This can occur when some groups of Chris­tians give exces­sive impor­tance to cer­tain rules, cus­toms or ways of act­ing. The Gospel then tends to be reduced and con­strict­ed, deprived of its sim­plic­i­ty, allure and savour. This may well be a sub­tle form of pela­gian­ism, for it appears to sub­ject the life of grace to cer­tain human struc­tures. It can affect groups, move­ments and com­mu­ni­ties, and it explains why so often they begin with an intense life in the Spir­it, only to end up fos­silized… or corrupt.

59. Once we believe that every­thing depends on human effort as chan­nelled by eccle­sial rules and struc­tures, we uncon­scious­ly com­pli­cate the Gospel and become enslaved to a blue­print that leaves few open­ings for the work­ing of grace. Saint Thomas Aquinas remind­ed us that the pre­cepts added to the Gospel by the Church should be imposed with mod­er­a­tion “lest the con­duct of the faith­ful become bur­den­some”, for then our reli­gion would become a form of servi­tude.[64]

The sum­ma­tion of the Law

60. To avoid this, we do well to keep remind­ing our­selves that there is a hier­ar­chy of virtues that bids us seek what is essen­tial. The pri­ma­cy belongs to the the­o­log­i­cal virtues, which have God as their object and motive. At the cen­tre is char­i­ty. Saint Paul says that what tru­ly counts is “faith work­ing through love” (Gal 5:6). We are called to make every effort to pre­serve char­i­ty: “The one who loves anoth­er has ful­filled the law… for love is the ful­fil­ment of the law” (Rom 13:8.10). “For the whole law is summed up in a sin­gle com­mand­ment, ‘You shall love your neigh­bour as your­self’” (Gal 5:14).

61. In oth­er words, amid the thick­et of pre­cepts and pre­scrip­tions, Jesus clears a way to see­ing two faces, that of the Father and that of our broth­er. He does not give us two more for­mu­las or two more com­mands. He gives us two faces, or bet­ter yet, one alone: the face of God reflect­ed in so many oth­er faces. For in every one of our broth­ers and sis­ters, espe­cial­ly the least, the most vul­ner­a­ble, the defence­less and those in need, God’s very image is found. Indeed, with the scraps of this frail human­i­ty, the Lord will shape his final work of art. For “what endures, what has val­ue in life, what rich­es do not dis­ap­pear? Sure­ly these two: the Lord and our neigh­bour. These two rich­es do not dis­ap­pear!”[65]

62. May the Lord set the Church free from these new forms of gnos­ti­cism and pela­gian­ism that weigh her down and block her progress along the path to holi­ness! These aber­ra­tions take var­i­ous shapes, accord­ing to the tem­pera­ment and char­ac­ter of each per­son. So I encour­age every­one to reflect and dis­cern before God whether they may be present in their lives.




63. There can be any num­ber of the­o­ries about what con­sti­tutes holi­ness, with var­i­ous expla­na­tions and dis­tinc­tions. Such reflec­tion may be use­ful, but noth­ing is more enlight­en­ing than turn­ing to Jesus’ words and see­ing his way of teach­ing the truth. Jesus explained with great sim­plic­i­ty what it means to be holy when he gave us the Beat­i­tudes (cf. Mt 5:3–12; Lk 6:20–23). The Beat­i­tudes are like a Christian’s iden­ti­ty card. So if any­one asks: “What must one do to be a good Chris­t­ian?”, the answer is clear. We have to do, each in our own way, what Jesus told us in the Ser­mon on the Mount.[66] In the Beat­i­tudes, we find a por­trait of the Mas­ter, which we are called to reflect in our dai­ly lives.

64. The word “hap­py” or “blessed” thus becomes a syn­onym for “holy”. It express­es the fact that those faith­ful to God and his word, by their self-giv­ing, gain true happiness.


65. Although Jesus’ words may strike us as poet­ic, they clear­ly run counter to the way things are usu­al­ly done in our world. Even if we find Jesus’ mes­sage attrac­tive, the world push­es us towards anoth­er way of liv­ing. The Beat­i­tudes are in no way trite or unde­mand­ing, quite the oppo­site. We can only prac­tise them if the Holy Spir­it fills us with his pow­er and frees us from our weak­ness, our self­ish­ness, our com­pla­cen­cy and our pride.

66. Let us lis­ten once more to Jesus, with all the love and respect that the Mas­ter deserves. Let us allow his words to unset­tle us, to chal­lenge us and to demand a real change in the way we live. Oth­er­wise, holi­ness will remain no more than an emp­ty word. We turn now to the indi­vid­ual Beat­i­tudes in the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt 5:3–12).[67]

“Blessed are the poor in spir­it, for theirs is the king­dom of heaven” 

67. The Gospel invites us to peer into the depths of our heart, to see where we find our secu­ri­ty in life. Usu­al­ly the rich feel secure in their wealth, and think that, if that wealth is threat­ened, the whole mean­ing of their earth­ly life can col­lapse. Jesus him­self tells us this in the para­ble of the rich fool: he speaks of a man who was sure of him­self, yet fool­ish, for it did not dawn on him that he might die that very day (cf. Lk 12:16–21).

68. Wealth ensures noth­ing. Indeed, once we think we are rich, we can become so self-sat­is­fied that we leave no room for God’s word, for the love of our broth­ers and sis­ters, or for the enjoy­ment of the most impor­tant things in life. In this way, we miss out on the great­est trea­sure of all. That is why Jesus calls blessed those who are poor in spir­it, those who have a poor heart, for there the Lord can enter with his peren­ni­al newness.

69. This spir­i­tu­al pover­ty is close­ly linked to what Saint Ignatius of Loy­ola calls “holy indif­fer­ence”, which brings us to a radi­ant inte­ri­or free­dom: “We need to train our­selves to be indif­fer­ent in our atti­tude to all cre­at­ed things, in all that is per­mit­ted to our free will and not for­bid­den; so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, rich­es rather than pover­ty, hon­our rather than dis­hon­our, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest”.[68]

70. Luke does not speak of pover­ty “of spir­it” but sim­ply of those who are “poor” (cf. Lk 6:20). In this way, he too invites us to live a plain and aus­tere life. He calls us to share in the life of those most in need, the life lived by the Apos­tles, and ulti­mate­ly to con­fig­ure our­selves to Jesus who, though rich, “made him­self poor” (2 Cor 8:9).

Being poor of heart: that is holiness.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inher­it the earth” 

71. These are strong words in a world that from the begin­ning has been a place of con­flict, dis­putes and enmi­ty on all sides, where we con­stant­ly pigeon­hole oth­ers on the basis of their ideas, their cus­toms and even their way of speak­ing or dress­ing. Ulti­mate­ly, it is the reign of pride and van­i­ty, where each per­son thinks he or she has the right to dom­i­nate oth­ers. Nonethe­less, impos­si­ble as it may seem, Jesus pro­pos­es a dif­fer­ent way of doing things: the way of meek­ness. This is what we see him doing with his dis­ci­ples. It is what we con­tem­plate on his entrance to Jerusalem: “Behold, your king is com­ing to you, hum­ble, and mount­ed on a don­key” (Mt 21:5; Zech 9:9).

72. Christ says: “Learn from me; for I am gen­tle and hum­ble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:29). If we are con­stant­ly upset and impa­tient with oth­ers, we will end up drained and weary. But if we regard the faults and lim­i­ta­tions of oth­ers with ten­der­ness and meek­ness, with­out an air of supe­ri­or­i­ty, we can actu­al­ly help them and stop wast­ing our ener­gy on use­less com­plain­ing. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux tells us that “per­fect char­i­ty con­sists in putting up with oth­ers’ mis­takes, and not being scan­dal­ized by their faults”.[69]

73. Paul speaks of meek­ness as one of the fruits of the Holy Spir­it (cf. Gal 5:23). He sug­gests that, if a wrong­ful action of one of our broth­ers or sis­ters trou­bles us, we should try to cor­rect them, but “with a spir­it of meek­ness”, since “you too could be tempt­ed” (Gal 6:1). Even when we defend our faith and con­vic­tions, we are to do so “with meek­ness” (cf. 1 Pet 3:16). Our ene­mies too are to be treat­ed “with meek­ness” (2 Tim 2:25). In the Church we have often erred by not embrac­ing this demand of God’s word.

74. Meek­ness is yet anoth­er expres­sion of the inte­ri­or pover­ty of those who put their trust in God alone. Indeed, in the Bible the same word – anaw­im – usu­al­ly refers both to the poor and to the meek. Some­one might object: “If I am that meek, they will think that I am an idiot, a fool or a weak­ling”. At times they may, but so be it. It is always bet­ter to be meek, for then our deep­est desires will be ful­filled. The meek “shall inher­it the earth”, for they will see God’s promis­es accom­plished in their lives. In every sit­u­a­tion, the meek put their hope in the Lord, and those who hope for him shall pos­sess the land… and enjoy the full­ness of peace (cf. Ps 37:9.11). For his part, the Lord trusts in them: “This is the one to whom I will look, to the hum­ble and con­trite in spir­it, who trem­bles at my word” (Is 66:2).

React­ing with meek­ness and humil­i­ty: that is holiness.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” 

75. The world tells us exact­ly the oppo­site: enter­tain­ment, plea­sure, diver­sion and escape make for the good life. The world­ly per­son ignores prob­lems of sick­ness or sor­row in the fam­i­ly or all around him; he averts his gaze. The world has no desire to mourn; it would rather dis­re­gard painful sit­u­a­tions, cov­er them up or hide them. Much ener­gy is expend­ed on flee­ing from sit­u­a­tions of suf­fer­ing in the belief that real­i­ty can be con­cealed. But the cross can nev­er be absent.

76. A per­son who sees things as they tru­ly are and sym­pa­thizes with pain and sor­row is capa­ble of touch­ing life’s depths and find­ing authen­tic hap­pi­ness.[70] He or she is con­soled, not by the world but by Jesus. Such per­sons are unafraid to share in the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers; they do not flee from painful sit­u­a­tions. They dis­cov­er the mean­ing of life by com­ing to the aid of those who suf­fer, under­stand­ing their anguish and bring­ing relief. They sense that the oth­er is flesh of our flesh, and are not afraid to draw near, even to touch their wounds. They feel com­pas­sion for oth­ers in such a way that all dis­tance van­ish­es. In this way they can embrace Saint Paul’s exhor­ta­tion: “Weep with those who weep” (Rom 12:15).

Know­ing how to mourn with oth­ers: that is holiness.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for right­eous­ness, for they will be filled” 

77. Hunger and thirst are intense expe­ri­ences, since they involve basic needs and our instinct for sur­vival. There are those who desire jus­tice and yearn for right­eous­ness with sim­i­lar inten­si­ty. Jesus says that they will be sat­is­fied, for soon­er or lat­er jus­tice will come. We can coop­er­ate to make that pos­si­ble, even if we may not always see the fruit of our efforts.

78. Jesus offers a jus­tice oth­er than that of the world, so often marred by pet­ty inter­ests and manip­u­lat­ed in var­i­ous ways. Expe­ri­ence shows how easy it is to become mired in cor­rup­tion, ensnared in the dai­ly pol­i­tics of quid pro quo, where every­thing becomes busi­ness. How many peo­ple suf­fer injus­tice, stand­ing by pow­er­less­ly while oth­ers divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fight­ing for real jus­tice and opt to fol­low in the train of the win­ners. This has noth­ing to do with the hunger and thirst for jus­tice that Jesus praises.

79. True jus­tice comes about in people’s lives when they them­selves are just in their deci­sions; it is expressed in their pur­suit of jus­tice for the poor and the weak. While it is true that the word “jus­tice” can be a syn­onym for faith­ful­ness to God’s will in every aspect of our life, if we give the word too gen­er­al a mean­ing, we for­get that it is shown espe­cial­ly in jus­tice towards those who are most vul­ner­a­ble: “Seek jus­tice, cor­rect oppres­sion; defend the father­less, plead for the wid­ow” (Is 1:17).

Hun­ger­ing and thirst­ing for right­eous­ness: that is holiness.

“Blessed are the mer­ci­ful, for they will receive mercy” 

80. Mer­cy has two aspects. It involves giv­ing, help­ing and serv­ing oth­ers, but it also includes for­give­ness and under­stand­ing. Matthew sums it up in one gold­en rule: “In every­thing, do to oth­ers as you would have them do to you” (7:12). The Cat­e­chism reminds us that this law is to be applied “in every case”,[71]espe­cial­ly when we are “con­front­ed by sit­u­a­tions that make moral judg­ments less assured and deci­sion dif­fi­cult”.[72]

81. Giv­ing and for­giv­ing means repro­duc­ing in our lives some small mea­sure of God’s per­fec­tion, which gives and for­gives super­abun­dant­ly. For this rea­son, in the Gospel of Luke we do not hear the words, “Be per­fect” (Mt 5:48), but rather, “Be mer­ci­ful, even as your Father is mer­ci­ful. Judge not, and you will not be judged; con­demn not, and you will not be con­demned; for­give, and you will be for­giv­en; give, and it will be giv­en to you” (6:36–38). Luke then adds some­thing not to be over­looked: “The mea­sure you give will be the mea­sure you get back” (6:38). The yard­stick we use for under­stand­ing and for­giv­ing oth­ers will mea­sure the for­give­ness we receive. The yard­stick we use for giv­ing will mea­sure what we receive. We should nev­er for­get this.

82. Jesus does not say, “Blessed are those who plot revenge”. He calls “blessed” those who for­give and do so “sev­en­ty times sev­en” (Mt 18:22). We need to think of our­selves as an army of the for­giv­en. All of us have been looked upon with divine com­pas­sion. If we approach the Lord with sin­cer­i­ty and lis­ten care­ful­ly, there may well be times when we hear his reproach: “Should not you have had mer­cy on your fel­low ser­vant, as I had mer­cy on you?” (Mt 18:33).

See­ing and act­ing with mer­cy: that is holiness.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” 

83. This Beat­i­tude speaks of those whose hearts are sim­ple, pure and unde­filed, for a heart capa­ble of love admits noth­ing that might harm, weak­en or endan­ger that love. The Bible uses the heart to describe our real inten­tions, the things we tru­ly seek and desire, apart from all appear­ances. “Man sees the appear­ance, but the Lord looks into the heart” (1Sam 16:7). God wants to speak to our hearts (cf. Hos 2:16); there he desires to write his law (cf. Jer 31:33). In a word, he wants to give us a new heart (cf. Ezek 36:26).

84. “Guard your heart with all vig­i­lance” (Prov 4:23). Noth­ing stained by false­hood has any real worth in the Lord’s eyes. He “flees from deceit, and ris­es and departs from fool­ish thoughts” (Wis 1:5). The Father, “who sees in secret” (Mt 6:6), rec­og­nizes what is impure and insin­cere, mere dis­play or appear­ance, as does the Son, who knows “what is in man” (cf. Jn 2:25).

85. Cer­tain­ly there can be no love with­out works of love, but this Beat­i­tude reminds us that the Lord expects a com­mit­ment to our broth­ers and sis­ters that comes from the heart. For “if I give away all I have, and if I deliv­er my body to be burned, but have no love, I gain noth­ing” (1 Cor 13:3). In Matthew’s Gospel too, we see that what pro­ceeds from the heart is what defiles a per­son (cf. 15:18), for from the heart come mur­der, theft, false wit­ness, and oth­er evil deeds (cf. 15:19). From the heart’s inten­tions come the desires and the deep­est deci­sions that deter­mine our actions.

86. A heart that loves God and neigh­bour (cf. Mt 22:36–40), gen­uine­ly and not mere­ly in words, is a pure heart; it can see God. In his hymn to char­i­ty, Saint Paul says that “now we see in a mir­ror, dim­ly” (1 Cor 13:12), but to the extent that truth and love pre­vail, we will then be able to see “face to face”. Jesus promis­es that those who are pure in heart “will see God”.

Keep­ing a heart free of all that tar­nish­es love: that is holiness.

“Blessed are the peace­mak­ers, for they will be called chil­dren of God” 

87. This Beat­i­tude makes us think of the many end­less sit­u­a­tions of war in our world. Yet we our­selves are often a cause of con­flict or at least of mis­un­der­stand­ing. For exam­ple, I may hear some­thing about some­one and I go off and repeat it. I may even embell­ish it the sec­ond time around and keep spread­ing it… And the more harm it does, the more sat­is­fac­tion I seem to derive from it. The world of gos­sip, inhab­it­ed by neg­a­tive and destruc­tive peo­ple, does not bring peace. Such peo­ple are real­ly the ene­mies of peace; in no way are they “blessed”.[73]

88. Peace­mak­ers tru­ly “make” peace; they build peace and friend­ship in soci­ety. To those who sow peace Jesus makes this mag­nif­i­cent promise: “They will be called chil­dren of God” (Mt 5:9). He told his dis­ci­ples that, wher­ev­er they went, they were to say: “Peace to this house!” (Lk 10:5). The word of God exhorts every believ­er to work for peace, “along with all who call upon the Lord with a pure heart” (cf. 2 Tim 2:22), for “the har­vest of right­eous­ness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (Jas3:18). And if there are times in our com­mu­ni­ty when we ques­tion what ought to be done, “let us pur­sue what makes for peace” (Rom 14:19), for uni­ty is prefer­able to con­flict.[74]

89. It is not easy to “make” this evan­gel­i­cal peace, which excludes no one but embraces even those who are a bit odd, trou­ble­some or dif­fi­cult, demand­ing, dif­fer­ent, beat­en down by life or sim­ply unin­ter­est­ed. It is hard work; it calls for great open­ness of mind and heart, since it is not about cre­at­ing “a con­sen­sus on paper or a tran­sient peace for a con­tent­ed minor­i­ty”,[75] or a project “by a few for the few”.[76] Nor can it attempt to ignore or dis­re­gard con­flict; instead, it must “face con­flict head on, resolve it and make it a link in the chain of a new process”.[77] We need to be arti­sans of peace, for build­ing peace is a craft that demands seren­i­ty, cre­ativ­i­ty, sen­si­tiv­i­ty and skill.

Sow­ing peace all around us: that is holiness.

“Blessed are those who are per­se­cut­ed for right­eous­ness’ sake, for theirs is the king­dom of heaven” 

90. Jesus him­self warns us that the path he pro­pos­es goes against the flow, even mak­ing us chal­lenge soci­ety by the way we live and, as a result, becom­ing a nui­sance. He reminds us how many peo­ple have been, and still are, per­se­cut­ed sim­ply because they strug­gle for jus­tice, because they take seri­ous­ly their com­mit­ment to God and to oth­ers. Unless we wish to sink into an obscure medi­oc­rity, let us not long for an easy life, for “who­ev­er would save his life will lose it” (Mt 16:25).

91. In liv­ing the Gospel, we can­not expect that every­thing will be easy, for the thirst for pow­er and world­ly inter­ests often stands in our way. Saint John Paul II not­ed that “a soci­ety is alien­at­ed if its forms of social orga­ni­za­tion, pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion make it more dif­fi­cult to offer this gift of self and to estab­lish this sol­i­dar­i­ty between peo­ple”.[78] In such a soci­ety, pol­i­tics, mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions and eco­nom­ic, cul­tur­al and even reli­gious insti­tu­tions become so entan­gled as to become an obsta­cle to authen­tic human and social devel­op­ment. As a result, the Beat­i­tudes are not easy to live out; any attempt to do so will be viewed neg­a­tive­ly, regard­ed with sus­pi­cion, and met with ridicule.

92. What­ev­er weari­ness and pain we may expe­ri­ence in liv­ing the com­mand­ment of love and fol­low­ing the way of jus­tice, the cross remains the source of our growth and sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. We must nev­er for­get that when the New Tes­ta­ment tells us that we will have to endure suf­fer­ing for the Gospel’s sake, it speaks pre­cise­ly of per­se­cu­tion (cf. Acts 5:41; Phil 1:29; Col 1:24; 2 Tim1:12; 1 Pet 2:20, 4:14–16; Rev 2:10).

93. Here we are speak­ing about inevitable per­se­cu­tion, not the kind of per­se­cu­tion we might bring upon our­selves by our mis­treat­ment of oth­ers. The saints are not odd and aloof, unbear­able because of their van­i­ty, neg­a­tiv­i­ty and bit­ter­ness. The Apos­tles of Christ were not like that. The Book of Acts states repeat­ed­ly that they enjoyed favour “with all the peo­ple” (2:47; cf. 4:21.33; 5:13), even as some author­i­ties harassed and per­se­cut­ed them (cf. 4:1–3, 5:17–18).

94. Per­se­cu­tions are not a real­i­ty of the past, for today too we expe­ri­ence them, whether by the shed­ding of blood, as is the case with so many con­tem­po­rary mar­tyrs, or by more sub­tle means, by slan­der and lies. Jesus calls us blessed when peo­ple “utter all kinds of evil against you false­ly on my account” (Mt 5:11). At oth­er times, per­se­cu­tion can take the form of gibes that try to car­i­ca­ture our faith and make us seem ridiculous.

Accept­ing dai­ly the path of the Gospel, even though it may cause us prob­lems: that is holiness.


95. In the twen­ty-fifth chap­ter of Matthew’s Gospel (vv. 31–46), Jesus expands on the Beat­i­tude that calls the mer­ci­ful blessed. If we seek the holi­ness pleas­ing to God’s eyes, this text offers us one clear cri­te­ri­on on which we will be judged. “I was hun­gry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you wel­comed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you vis­it­ed me” (vv. 35–36).

In fideli­ty to the Master 

96. Holi­ness, then, is not about swoon­ing in mys­tic rap­ture. As Saint John Paul II said: “If we tru­ly start out anew from the con­tem­pla­tion of Christ, we must learn to see him espe­cial­ly in the faces of those with whom he him­self wished to be iden­ti­fied”.[79] The text of Matthew 25:35–36 is “not a sim­ple invi­ta­tion to char­i­ty: it is a page of Chris­tol­ogy which sheds a ray of light on the mys­tery of Christ”.[80] In this call to rec­og­nize him in the poor and the suf­fer­ing, we see revealed the very heart of Christ, his deep­est feel­ings and choic­es, which every saint seeks to imitate.

97. Giv­en these uncom­pro­mis­ing demands of Jesus, it is my duty to ask Chris­tians to acknowl­edge and accept them in a spir­it of gen­uine open­ness, sine glos­sa. In oth­er words, with­out any “ifs or buts” that could lessen their force. Our Lord made it very clear that holi­ness can­not be under­stood or lived apart from these demands, for mer­cy is “the beat­ing heart of the Gospel”.[81]

98. If I encounter a per­son sleep­ing out­doors on a cold night, I can view him or her as an annoy­ance, an idler, an obsta­cle in my path, a trou­bling sight, a prob­lem for politi­cians to sort out, or even a piece of refuse clut­ter­ing a pub­lic space. Or I can respond with faith and char­i­ty, and see in this per­son a human being with a dig­ni­ty iden­ti­cal to my own, a crea­ture infi­nite­ly loved by the Father, an image of God, a broth­er or sis­ter redeemed by Jesus Christ. That is what it is to be a Chris­t­ian! Can holi­ness some­how be under­stood apart from this live­ly recog­ni­tion of the dig­ni­ty of each human being?[82]

99. For Chris­tians, this involves a con­stant and healthy unease. Even if help­ing one per­son alone could jus­ti­fy all our efforts, it would not be enough. The bish­ops of Cana­da made this clear when they not­ed, for exam­ple, that the bib­li­cal under­stand­ing of the jubilee year was about more than sim­ply per­form­ing cer­tain good works. It also meant seek­ing social change: “For lat­er gen­er­a­tions to also be released, clear­ly the goal had to be the restora­tion of just social and eco­nom­ic sys­tems, so there could no longer be exclu­sion”.[83]

Ide­olo­gies strik­ing at the heart of the Gospel 

100. I regret that ide­olo­gies lead us at times to two harm­ful errors. On the one hand, there is the error of those Chris­tians who sep­a­rate these Gospel demands from their per­son­al rela­tion­ship with the Lord, from their inte­ri­or union with him, from open­ness to his grace. Chris­tian­i­ty thus becomes a sort of NGO stripped of the lumi­nous mys­ti­cism so evi­dent in the lives of Saint Fran­cis of Assisi, Saint Vin­cent de Paul, Saint Tere­sa of Cal­cut­ta, and many oth­ers. For these great saints, men­tal prayer, the love of God and the read­ing of the Gospel in no way detract­ed from their pas­sion­ate and effec­tive com­mit­ment to their neigh­bours; quite the opposite.

101. The oth­er harm­ful ide­o­log­i­cal error is found in those who find sus­pect the social engage­ment of oth­ers, see­ing it as super­fi­cial, world­ly, sec­u­lar, mate­ri­al­ist, com­mu­nist or pop­ulist. Or they rel­a­tivize it, as if there are oth­er more impor­tant mat­ters, or the only thing that counts is one par­tic­u­lar eth­i­cal issue or cause that they them­selves defend. Our defence of the inno­cent unborn, for exam­ple, needs to be clear, firm and pas­sion­ate, for at stake is the dig­ni­ty of a human life, which is always sacred and demands love for each per­son, regard­less of his or her stage of devel­op­ment. Equal­ly sacred, how­ev­er, are the lives of the poor, those already born, the des­ti­tute, the aban­doned and the under­priv­i­leged, the vul­ner­a­ble infirm and elder­ly exposed to covert euthana­sia, the vic­tims of human traf­fick­ing, new forms of slav­ery, and every form of rejec­tion.[84] We can­not uphold an ide­al of holi­ness that would ignore injus­tice in a world where some rev­el, spend with aban­don and live only for the lat­est con­sumer goods, even as oth­ers look on from afar, liv­ing their entire lives in abject poverty.

102. We often hear it said that, with respect to rel­a­tivism and the flaws of our present world, the sit­u­a­tion of migrants, for exam­ple, is a less­er issue. Some Catholics con­sid­er it a sec­ondary issue com­pared to the “grave” bioeth­i­cal ques­tions. That a politi­cian look­ing for votes might say such a thing is under­stand­able, but not a Chris­t­ian, for whom the only prop­er atti­tude is to stand in the shoes of those broth­ers and sis­ters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their chil­dren. Can we not real­ize that this is exact­ly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in wel­com­ing the stranger we wel­come him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Bene­dict did so read­i­ly, and though it might have “com­pli­cat­ed” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be wel­comed “like Christ”,[85] with a ges­ture of ven­er­a­tion;[86] the poor and pil­grims were to be met with “the great­est care and solic­i­tude”.[87]

103. A sim­i­lar approach is found in the Old Tes­ta­ment: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you your­selves were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the cit­i­zen among you; and you shall love him as your­self; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev 19:33–34). This is not a notion invent­ed by some Pope, or a momen­tary fad. In today’s world too, we are called to fol­low the path of spir­i­tu­al wis­dom pro­posed by the prophet Isa­iah to show what is pleas­ing to God. “Is it not to share your bread with the hun­gry and bring the home­less poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cov­er him, and not to hide your­self from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn” (58:7–8).

The wor­ship most accept­able to God

104. We may think that we give glo­ry to God only by our wor­ship and prayer, or sim­ply by fol­low­ing cer­tain eth­i­cal norms. It is true that the pri­ma­cy belongs to our rela­tion­ship with God, but we can­not for­get that the ulti­mate cri­te­ri­on on which our lives will be judged is what we have done for oth­ers. Prayer is most pre­cious, for it nour­ish­es a dai­ly com­mit­ment to love. Our wor­ship becomes pleas­ing to God when we devote our­selves to liv­ing gen­er­ous­ly, and allow God’s gift, grant­ed in prayer, to be shown in our con­cern for our broth­ers and sisters.

105. Sim­i­lar­ly, the best way to dis­cern if our prayer is authen­tic is to judge to what extent our life is being trans­formed in the light of mer­cy. For “mer­cy is not only an action of the Father; it becomes a cri­te­ri­on for ascer­tain­ing who his true chil­dren are”.[88] Mer­cy “is the very foun­da­tion of the Church’s life”.[89] In this regard, I would like to reit­er­ate that mer­cy does not exclude jus­tice and truth; indeed, “we have to say that mer­cy is the full­ness of jus­tice and the most radi­ant man­i­fes­ta­tion of God’s truth”.[90] It is “the key to heav­en”.[91]

106. Here I think of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who asked which actions of ours are noblest, which exter­nal works best show our love for God. Thomas answered unhesi­tat­ing­ly that they are the works of mer­cy towards our neigh­bour,[92] even more than our acts of wor­ship: “We wor­ship God by out­ward sac­ri­fices and gifts, not for his own ben­e­fit, but for that of our­selves and our neigh­bour. For he does not need our sac­ri­fices, but wish­es them to be offered to him, in order to stir our devo­tion and to prof­it our neigh­bour. Hence mer­cy, where­by we sup­ply oth­ers’ defects, is a sac­ri­fice more accept­able to him, as con­duc­ing more direct­ly to our neighbour’s well-being”.[93]

107. Those who real­ly wish to give glo­ry to God by their lives, who tru­ly long to grow in holi­ness, are called to be sin­gle-mind­ed and tena­cious in their prac­tice of the works of mer­cy. Saint Tere­sa of Cal­cut­ta clear­ly real­ized this: “Yes, I have many human faults and fail­ures… But God bends down and uses us, you and me, to be his love and his com­pas­sion in the world; he bears our sins, our trou­bles and our faults. He depends on us to love the world and to show how much he loves it. If we are too con­cerned with our­selves, we will have no time left for oth­ers”.[94]

108. Hedo­nism and con­sumerism can prove our down­fall, for when we are obsessed with our own plea­sure, we end up being all too con­cerned about our­selves and our rights, and we feel a des­per­ate need for free time to enjoy our­selves. We will find it hard to feel and show any real con­cern for those in need, unless we are able to cul­ti­vate a cer­tain sim­plic­i­ty of life, resist­ing the fever­ish demands of a con­sumer soci­ety, which leave us impov­er­ished and unsat­is­fied, anx­ious to have it all now. Sim­i­lar­ly, when we allow our­selves to be caught up in super­fi­cial infor­ma­tion, instant com­mu­ni­ca­tion and vir­tu­al real­i­ty, we can waste pre­cious time and become indif­fer­ent to the suf­fer­ing flesh of our broth­ers and sis­ters. Yet even amid this whirl­wind of activ­i­ty, the Gospel con­tin­ues to resound, offer­ing us the promise of a dif­fer­ent life, a health­i­er and hap­pi­er life.

* * *

109. The pow­er­ful wit­ness of the saints is revealed in their lives, shaped by the Beat­i­tudes and the cri­te­ri­on of the final judge­ment. Jesus’ words are few and straight­for­ward, yet prac­ti­cal and valid for every­one, for Chris­tian­i­ty is meant above all to be put into prac­tice. It can also be an object of study and reflec­tion, but only to help us bet­ter live the Gospel in our dai­ly lives. I rec­om­mend reread­ing these great bib­li­cal texts fre­quent­ly, refer­ring back to them, pray­ing with them, try­ing to embody them. They will ben­e­fit us; they will make us gen­uine­ly happy.




110. With­in the frame­work of holi­ness offered by the Beat­i­tudes and Matthew 25:31–46, I would like to men­tion a few signs or spir­i­tu­al atti­tudes that, in my opin­ion, are nec­es­sary if we are to under­stand the way of life to which the Lord calls us. I will not pause to explain the means of sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion already known to us: the var­i­ous meth­ods of prayer, the ines­timable sacra­ments of the Eucharist and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the offer­ing of per­son­al sac­ri­fices, dif­fer­ent forms of devo­tion, spir­i­tu­al direc­tion, and many oth­ers as well. Here I will speak only of cer­tain aspects of the call to holi­ness that I hope will prove espe­cial­ly meaningful.

111. The signs I wish to high­light are not the sum total of a mod­el of holi­ness, but they are five great expres­sions of love for God and neigh­bour that I con­sid­er of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance in the light of cer­tain dan­gers and lim­i­ta­tions present in today’s cul­ture. There we see a sense of anx­i­ety, some­times vio­lent, that dis­tracts and debil­i­tates; neg­a­tiv­i­ty and sul­len­ness; the self-con­tent bred by con­sumerism; indi­vid­u­al­ism; and all those forms of ersatz spir­i­tu­al­i­ty – hav­ing noth­ing to do with God – that dom­i­nate the cur­rent reli­gious marketplace.


112. The first of these great signs is sol­id ground­ing in the God who loves and sus­tains us. This source of inner strength enables us to per­se­vere amid life’s ups and downs, but also to endure hos­til­i­ty, betray­al and fail­ings on the part of oth­ers. “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31): this is the source of the peace found in the saints. Such inner strength makes it pos­si­ble for us, in our fast-paced, noisy and aggres­sive world, to give a wit­ness of holi­ness through patience and con­stan­cy in doing good. It is a sign of the fideli­ty born of love, for those who put their faith in God (pístis) can also be faith­ful to oth­ers (pistós). They do not desert oth­ers in bad times; they accom­pa­ny them in their anx­i­ety and dis­tress, even though doing so may not bring imme­di­ate satisfaction.

113. Saint Paul bade the Romans not to repay evil for evil (cf. Rom 12:17), not to seek revenge (v. 19), and not to be over­come by evil, but instead to “over­come evil with good” (v. 21). This atti­tude is not a sign of weak­ness but of true strength, because God him­self “is slow to anger but great in pow­er” (Nah 1:3). The word of God exhorts us to “put away all bit­ter­ness and wrath and wran­gling and slan­der, togeth­er with all mal­ice” (Eph 4:31).

114. We need to rec­og­nize and com­bat our aggres­sive and self­ish incli­na­tions, and not let them take root. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). When we feel over­whelmed, we can always cling to the anchor of prayer, which puts us back in God’s hands and the source of our peace. “Have no anx­i­ety about any­thing, but in every­thing, by prayer and sup­pli­ca­tion with thanks­giv­ing, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which sur­pass­es all under­stand­ing, will guard your hearts…” (Phil 4:6–7).

115. Chris­tians too can be caught up in net­works of ver­bal vio­lence through the inter­net and the var­i­ous forums of dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Even in Catholic media, lim­its can be over­stepped, defama­tion and slan­der can become com­mon­place, and all eth­i­cal stan­dards and respect for the good name of oth­ers can be aban­doned. The result is a dan­ger­ous dichoto­my, since things can be said there that would be unac­cept­able in pub­lic dis­course, and peo­ple look to com­pen­sate for their own dis­con­tent by lash­ing out at oth­ers. It is strik­ing that at times, in claim­ing to uphold the oth­er com­mand­ments, they com­plete­ly ignore the eighth, which for­bids bear­ing false wit­ness or lying, and ruth­less­ly vil­i­fy oth­ers. Here we see how the unguard­ed tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze (cf. Jas 3:6).

116. Inner strength, as the work of grace, pre­vents us from becom­ing car­ried away by the vio­lence that is so much a part of life today, because grace defus­es van­i­ty and makes pos­si­ble meek­ness of heart. The saints do not waste ener­gy com­plain­ing about the fail­ings of oth­ers; they can hold their tongue before the faults of their broth­ers and sis­ters, and avoid the ver­bal vio­lence that demeans and mis­treats oth­ers. Saints hes­i­tate to treat oth­ers harsh­ly; they con­sid­er oth­ers bet­ter than them­selves (cf. Phil 2:3).

117. It is not good when we look down on oth­ers like heart­less judges, lord­ing it over them and always try­ing to teach them lessons. That is itself a sub­tle form of vio­lence.[95] Saint John of the Cross pro­posed a dif­fer­ent path: “Always pre­fer to be taught by all, rather than to desire teach­ing even the least of all”.[96] And he added advice on how to keep the dev­il at bay: “Rejoice in the good of oth­ers as if it were your own, and desire that they be giv­en prece­dence over you in all things; this you should do whole­heart­ed­ly. You will there­by over­come evil with good, ban­ish the dev­il, and pos­sess a hap­py heart. Try to prac­tise this all the more with those who least attract you. Real­ize that if you do not train your­self in this way, you will not attain real char­i­ty or make any progress in it”.[97]

118. Humil­i­ty can only take root in the heart through humil­i­a­tions. With­out them, there is no humil­i­ty or holi­ness. If you are unable to suf­fer and offer up a few humil­i­a­tions, you are not hum­ble and you are not on the path to holi­ness. The holi­ness that God bestows on his Church comes through the humil­i­a­tion of his Son. He is the way. Humil­i­a­tion makes you resem­ble Jesus; it is an unavoid­able aspect of the imi­ta­tion of Christ. For “Christ suf­fered for you, leav­ing you an exam­ple, so that you might fol­low in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). In turn, he reveals the humil­i­ty of the Father, who con­de­scends to jour­ney with his peo­ple, endur­ing their infi­deli­ties and com­plaints (cf. Ex 34:6–9; Wis 11:23–12:2; Lk 6:36). For this rea­son, the Apos­tles, after suf­fer­ing humil­i­a­tion, rejoiced “that they were count­ed wor­thy to suf­fer dis­hon­our for [Jesus’] name” (Acts 5:41).

119. Here I am not speak­ing only about stark sit­u­a­tions of mar­tyr­dom, but about the dai­ly humil­i­a­tions of those who keep silent to save their fam­i­lies, who pre­fer to praise oth­ers rather than boast about them­selves, or who choose the less wel­come tasks, at times even choos­ing to bear an injus­tice so as to offer it to the Lord. “If when you do right and suf­fer for it, you have God’s approval” (1 Pet 2:20). This does not mean walk­ing around with eyes low­ered, not say­ing a word and flee­ing the com­pa­ny of oth­ers. At times, pre­cise­ly because some­one is free of self­ish­ness, he or she can dare to dis­agree gen­tly, to demand jus­tice or to defend the weak before the pow­er­ful, even if it may harm his or her reputation.

120. I am not say­ing that such humil­i­a­tion is pleas­ant, for that would be masochism, but that it is a way of imi­tat­ing Jesus and grow­ing in union with him. This is incom­pre­hen­si­ble on a pure­ly nat­ur­al lev­el, and the world mocks any such notion. Instead, it is a grace to be sought in prayer: “Lord, when humil­i­a­tions come, help me to know that I am fol­low­ing in your footsteps”.

121. To act in this way pre­sumes a heart set at peace by Christ, freed from the aggres­sive­ness born of over­ween­ing ego­tism. That same peace­ful­ness, the fruit of grace, makes it pos­si­ble to pre­serve our inner trust and per­se­vere in good­ness, “though I walk through the val­ley of the shad­ow of death” (Ps 23:4) or “a host encamp against me” (Ps 27:3). Stand­ing firm in the Lord, the Rock, we can sing: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safe­ty” (Ps 4:8). Christ, in a word, “is our peace” (Eph 2:14); he came “to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Lk 1:79). As he told Saint Fausti­na Kowal­s­ka, “Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to my mer­cy”.[98] So let us not fall into the temp­ta­tion of look­ing for secu­ri­ty in suc­cess, vain plea­sures, pos­ses­sions, pow­er over oth­ers or social sta­tus. Jesus says: “My peace I give to you; I do not give it to you as the world gives peace” (Jn 14:27).


122. Far from being timid, morose, acer­bic or melan­choly, or putting on a drea­ry face, the saints are joy­ful and full of good humour. Though com­plete­ly real­is­tic, they radi­ate a pos­i­tive and hope­ful spir­it. The Chris­t­ian life is “joy in the Holy Spir­it” (Rom14:17), for “the nec­es­sary result of the love of char­i­ty is joy; since every lover rejoic­es at being unit­ed to the beloved… the effect of char­i­ty is joy”.[99] Hav­ing received the beau­ti­ful gift of God’s word, we embrace it “in much afflic­tion, with joy inspired by the Holy Spir­it” (1 Thess 1:6). If we allow the Lord to draw us out of our shell and change our lives, then we can do as Saint Paul tells us: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say it again, rejoice!” (Phil 4:4).

123. The prophets pro­claimed the times of Jesus, in which we now live, as a rev­e­la­tion of joy. “Shout and sing for joy!” (Is 12:6). “Get you up to a high moun­tain, O her­ald of good tid­ings to Zion; lift up your voice with strength, O her­ald of good tid­ings to Jerusalem!” (Is 40:9). “Break forth, O moun­tains, into singing! For the Lord has com­fort­ed his peo­ple, and he will have com­pas­sion on his afflict­ed” (Is 49:13). “Rejoice great­ly, O daugh­ter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daugh­ter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king comes to you; tri­umphant and vic­to­ri­ous is he” (Zech 9:9). Nor should we for­get Nehemiah’s exhor­ta­tion: “Do not be griev­ed, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (8:10).

124. Mary, rec­og­niz­ing the new­ness that Jesus brought, sang: “My spir­it rejoic­es” (Lk 1:47), and Jesus him­self “rejoiced in the Holy Spir­it” (Lk 10:21). As he passed by, “all the peo­ple rejoiced” (Lk 13:17). After his res­ur­rec­tion, wher­ev­er the dis­ci­ples went, there was “much joy” (Acts 8:8). Jesus assures us: “You will be sor­row­ful, but your sor­row will turn into joy… I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (Jn 16:20.22). “These things I have spo­ken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).

125. Hard times may come, when the cross casts its shad­ow, yet noth­ing can destroy the super­nat­ur­al joy that “adapts and changes, but always endures, even as a flick­er of light born of our per­son­al cer­tain­ty that, when every­thing is said and done, we are infi­nite­ly loved”.[100] That joy brings deep secu­ri­ty, serene hope and a spir­i­tu­al ful­fil­ment that the world can­not under­stand or appreciate.

126. Chris­t­ian joy is usu­al­ly accom­pa­nied by a sense of humour. We see this clear­ly, for exam­ple, in Saint Thomas More, Saint Vin­cent de Paul and Saint Philip Neri. Ill humour is no sign of holi­ness. “Remove vex­a­tion from your mind” (Eccl 11:10). We receive so much from the Lord “for our enjoy­ment” (1 Tim 6:17), that sad­ness can be a sign of ingrat­i­tude. We can get so caught up in our­selves that we are unable to rec­og­nize God’s gifts.[101]

127. With the love of a father, God tells us: “My son, treat your­self well… Do not deprive your­self of a hap­py day” (Sir 14:11.14). He wants us to be pos­i­tive, grate­ful and uncom­pli­cat­ed: “In the day of pros­per­i­ty, be joy­ful… God cre­at­ed human beings straight­for­ward, but they have devised many schemes” (Eccl 7:14.29). What­ev­er the case, we should remain resilient and imi­tate Saint Paul: “I have learned to be con­tent with what I have” (Phil 4:11). Saint Fran­cis of Assisi lived by this; he could be over­whelmed with grat­i­tude before a piece of hard bread, or joy­ful­ly praise God sim­ply for the breeze that caressed his face.

128. This is not the joy held out by today’s indi­vid­u­al­is­tic and con­sumerist cul­ture. Con­sumerism only bloats the heart. It can offer occa­sion­al and pass­ing plea­sures, but not joy. Here I am speak­ing of a joy lived in com­mu­nion, which shares and is shared, since “there is more hap­pi­ness in giv­ing than in receiv­ing” (Acts 20:35) and “God loves a cheer­ful giv­er” (2 Cor 9:7). Fra­ter­nal love increas­es our capac­i­ty for joy, since it makes us capa­ble of rejoic­ing in the good of oth­ers: “Rejoice with those who rejoice” (Rom 12:15). “We rejoice when we are weak and you are strong” (2 Cor 13:9). On the oth­er hand, when we “focus pri­mar­i­ly on our own needs, we con­demn our­selves to a joy­less exis­tence”.[102]


129. Holi­ness is also par­rhesía: it is bold­ness, an impulse to evan­ge­lize and to leave a mark in this world. To allow us to do this, Jesus him­self comes and tells us once more, serene­ly yet firm­ly: “Do not be afraid” (Mk 6:50). “I am with you always, to the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). These words enable us to go forth and serve with the same courage that the Holy Spir­it stirred up in the Apos­tles, impelling them to pro­claim Jesus Christ. Bold­ness, enthu­si­asm, the free­dom to speak out, apos­tolic fer­vour, all these are includ­ed in the word par­rhesía. The Bible also uses this word to describe the free­dom of a life open to God and to oth­ers (cf. Acts 4:29, 9:28, 28:31; 2 Cor 3:12; Eph 3:12; Heb 3:6, 10:19).

130. Blessed Paul VI, in refer­ring to obsta­cles to evan­ge­liza­tion, spoke of a lack of fer­vour (par­rhesía) that is “all the more seri­ous because it comes from with­in”.[103] How often we are tempt­ed to keep close to the shore! Yet the Lord calls us to put out into the deep and let down our nets (cf. Lk 5:4). He bids us spend our lives in his ser­vice. Cling­ing to him, we are inspired to put all our charisms at the ser­vice of oth­ers. May we always feel com­pelled by his love (2 Cor 5:14) and say with Saint Paul: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).

131. Look at Jesus. His deep com­pas­sion reached out to oth­ers. It did not make him hes­i­tant, timid or self-con­scious, as often hap­pens with us. Quite the oppo­site. His com­pas­sion made him go out active­ly to preach and to send oth­ers on a mis­sion of heal­ing and lib­er­a­tion. Let us acknowl­edge our weak­ness, but allow Jesus to lay hold of it and send us too on mis­sion. We are weak, yet we hold a trea­sure that can enlarge us and make those who receive it bet­ter and hap­pi­er. Bold­ness and apos­tolic courage are an essen­tial part of mission.

132. Par­rhesía is a seal of the Spir­it; it tes­ti­fies to the authen­tic­i­ty of our preach­ing. It is a joy­ful assur­ance that leads us to glo­ry in the Gospel we pro­claim. It is an unshake­able trust in the faith­ful Wit­ness who gives us the cer­tain­ty that noth­ing can “sep­a­rate us from the love of God” (Rom 8:39).

133. We need the Spirit’s prompt­ing, lest we be par­a­lyzed by fear and exces­sive cau­tion, lest we grow used to keep­ing with­in safe bounds. Let us remem­ber that closed spaces grow musty and unhealthy. When the Apos­tles were tempt­ed to let them­selves be crip­pled by dan­ger and threats, they joined in prayer to implore par­rhesía: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to your ser­vants to speak your word with all bold­ness” (Acts 4:29). As a result, “when they had prayed, the place in which they were gath­ered togeth­er was shak­en; and they were all filled with the Holy Spir­it and spoke the word of God with bold­ness” (Acts4:31).

134. Like the prophet Jon­ah, we are con­stant­ly tempt­ed to flee to a safe haven. It can have many names: indi­vid­u­al­ism, spir­i­tu­al­ism, liv­ing in a lit­tle world, addic­tion, intran­si­gence, the rejec­tion of new ideas and approach­es, dog­ma­tism, nos­tal­gia, pes­simism, hid­ing behind rules and reg­u­la­tions. We can resist leav­ing behind a famil­iar and easy way of doing things. Yet the chal­lenges involved can be like the storm, the whale, the worm that dried the gourd plant, or the wind and sun that burned Jonah’s head. For us, as for him, they can serve to bring us back to the God of ten­der­ness, who invites us to set out ever anew on our journey.

135. God is eter­nal new­ness. He impels us con­stant­ly to set out anew, to pass beyond what is famil­iar, to the fringes and beyond. He takes us to where human­i­ty is most wound­ed, where men and women, beneath the appear­ance of a shal­low con­for­mi­ty, con­tin­ue to seek an answer to the ques­tion of life’s mean­ing. God is not afraid! He is fear­less! He is always greater than our plans and schemes. Unafraid of the fringes, he him­self became a fringe (cf. Phil 2:6–8; Jn 1:14). So if we dare to go to the fringes, we will find him there; indeed, he is already there. Jesus is already there, in the hearts of our broth­ers and sis­ters, in their wound­ed flesh, in their trou­bles and in their pro­found des­o­la­tion. He is already there.

136. True enough, we need to open the door of our hearts to Jesus, who stands and knocks (cf. Rev 3:20). Some­times I won­der, though, if per­haps Jesus is already inside us and knock­ing on the door for us to let him escape from our stale self-cen­tred­ness. In the Gospel, we see how Jesus “went through the cities and vil­lages, preach­ing and bring­ing the good news of the king­dom of God” (Lk 8:1). After the res­ur­rec­tion, when the dis­ci­ples went forth in all direc­tions, the Lord accom­pa­nied them (cf. Mk 16:20). This is what hap­pens as the result of true encounter.

137. Com­pla­cen­cy is seduc­tive; it tells us that there is no point in try­ing to change things, that there is noth­ing we can do, because this is the way things have always been and yet we always man­age to sur­vive. By force of habit we no longer stand up to evil. We “let things be”, or as oth­ers have decid­ed they ought to be. Yet let us allow the Lord to rouse us from our tor­por, to free us from our iner­tia. Let us rethink our usu­al way of doing things; let us open our eyes and ears, and above all our hearts, so as not to be com­pla­cent about things as they are, but unset­tled by the liv­ing and effec­tive word of the risen Lord.

138. We are inspired to act by the exam­ple of all those priests, reli­gious, and laity who devote them­selves to procla­ma­tion and to serv­ing oth­ers with great fideli­ty, often at the risk of their lives and cer­tain­ly at the cost of their com­fort. Their tes­ti­mo­ny reminds us that, more than bureau­crats and func­tionar­ies, the Church needs pas­sion­ate mis­sion­ar­ies, enthu­si­as­tic about shar­ing true life. The saints sur­prise us, they con­found us, because by their lives they urge us to aban­don a dull and drea­ry mediocrity.

139. Let us ask the Lord for the grace not to hes­i­tate when the Spir­it calls us to take a step for­ward. Let us ask for the apos­tolic courage to share the Gospel with oth­ers and to stop try­ing to make our Chris­t­ian life a muse­um of mem­o­ries. In every sit­u­a­tion, may the Holy Spir­it cause us to con­tem­plate his­to­ry in the light of the risen Jesus. In this way, the Church will not stand still, but con­stant­ly wel­come the Lord’s surprises.


140. When we live apart from oth­ers, it is very dif­fi­cult to fight against con­cu­pis­cence, the snares and temp­ta­tions of the dev­il and the self­ish­ness of the world. Bom­bard­ed as we are by so many entice­ments, we can grow too iso­lat­ed, lose our sense of real­i­ty and inner clar­i­ty, and eas­i­ly succumb.

141. Growth in holi­ness is a jour­ney in com­mu­ni­ty, side by side with oth­ers. We see this in some holy com­mu­ni­ties. From time to time, the Church has can­on­ized entire com­mu­ni­ties that lived the Gospel hero­ical­ly or offered to God the lives of all their mem­bers. We can think, for exam­ple, of the sev­en holy founders of the Order of the Ser­vants of Mary, the sev­en blessed sis­ters of the first monastery of the Vis­i­ta­tion in Madrid, the Japan­ese mar­tyrs Saint Paul Miki and com­pan­ions, the Kore­an mar­tyrs Saint Andrew Tae­gon and com­pan­ions, or the South Amer­i­can mar­tyrs Saint Roque González, Saint Alon­so Rodríguez and com­pan­ions. We should also remem­ber the more recent wit­ness borne by the Trap­pists of Tib­hirine, Alge­ria, who pre­pared as a com­mu­ni­ty for mar­tyr­dom. In many holy mar­riages too, each spouse becomes a means used by Christ for the sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion of the oth­er. Liv­ing or work­ing along­side oth­ers is sure­ly a path of spir­i­tu­al growth. Saint John of the Cross told one of his fol­low­ers: “You are liv­ing with oth­ers in order to be fash­ioned and tried”.[104]

142. Each com­mu­ni­ty is called to cre­ate a “God-enlight­ened space in which to expe­ri­ence the hid­den pres­ence of the risen Lord”.[105] Shar­ing the word and cel­e­brat­ing the Eucharist togeth­er fos­ters fra­ter­ni­ty and makes us a holy and mis­sion­ary com­mu­ni­ty. It also gives rise to authen­tic and shared mys­ti­cal expe­ri­ences. Such was the case with Saints Bene­dict and Scholas­ti­ca. We can also think of the sub­lime spir­i­tu­al expe­ri­ence shared by Saint Augus­tine and his moth­er, Saint Mon­i­ca. “As the day now approached on which she was to depart this life, a day known to you but not to us, it came about, as I believe by your secret arrange­ment, that she and I stood alone lean­ing in a win­dow that looked onto a gar­den… We opened wide our hearts to drink in the streams of your foun­tain, the source of life that is in you… And as we spoke of that wis­dom and strained after it, we touched it in some mea­sure by the impe­tus of our hearts… eter­nal life might be like that one moment of knowl­edge which we now sighed after”.[106]

143. Such expe­ri­ences, how­ev­er, are nei­ther the most fre­quent nor the most impor­tant. The com­mon life, whether in the fam­i­ly, the parish, the reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty or any oth­er, is made up of small every­day things. This was true of the holy com­mu­ni­ty formed by Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which reflect­ed in an exem­plary way the beau­ty of the Trini­tar­i­an com­mu­nion. It was also true of the life that Jesus shared with his dis­ci­ples and with ordi­nary people.

144. Let us not for­get that Jesus asked his dis­ci­ples to pay atten­tion to details.
The lit­tle detail that wine was run­ning out at a party.
The lit­tle detail that one sheep was missing.
The lit­tle detail of notic­ing the wid­ow who offered her two small coins.
The lit­tle detail of hav­ing spare oil for the lamps, should the bride­groom delay.
The lit­tle detail of ask­ing the dis­ci­ples how many loaves of bread they had.
The lit­tle detail of hav­ing a fire burn­ing and a fish cook­ing as he wait­ed for the dis­ci­ples at daybreak.

145. A com­mu­ni­ty that cher­ish­es the lit­tle details of love,[107] whose mem­bers care for one anoth­er and cre­ate an open and evan­ge­liz­ing envi­ron­ment, is a place where the risen Lord is present, sanc­ti­fy­ing it in accor­dance with the Father’s plan. There are times when, by a gift of the Lord’s love, we are grant­ed, amid these lit­tle details, con­sol­ing expe­ri­ences of God. “One win­ter night I was car­ry­ing out my lit­tle duty as usu­al… Sud­den­ly, I heard off in the dis­tance the har­mo­nious sound of a musi­cal instru­ment. I then pic­tured a well-light­ed draw­ing room, bril­liant­ly gild­ed, filled with ele­gant­ly dressed young ladies con­vers­ing togeth­er and con­fer­ring upon each oth­er all sorts of com­pli­ments and oth­er world­ly remarks. Then my glance fell upon the poor invalid whom I was sup­port­ing. Instead of the beau­ti­ful strains of music I heard only her occa­sion­al com­plaints… I can­not express in words what hap­pened in my soul; what I know is that the Lord illu­mined it with rays of truth which so sur­passed the dark bril­liance of earth­ly feasts that I could not believe my hap­pi­ness”.[108]

146. Con­trary to the grow­ing con­sumerist indi­vid­u­al­ism that tends to iso­late us in a quest for well-being apart from oth­ers, our path to holi­ness can only make us iden­ti­fy all the more with Jesus’ prayer “that all may be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (Jn 17:21).


147. Final­ly, though it may seem obvi­ous, we should remem­ber that holi­ness con­sists in a habit­u­al open­ness to the tran­scen­dent, expressed in prayer and ado­ra­tion. The saints are dis­tin­guished by a spir­it of prayer and a need for com­mu­nion with God. They find an exclu­sive con­cern with this world to be nar­row and sti­fling, and, amid their own con­cerns and com­mit­ments, they long for God, los­ing them­selves in praise and con­tem­pla­tion of the Lord. I do not believe in holi­ness with­out prayer, even though that prayer need not be lengthy or involve intense emotions.

148. Sain­tJohn of the Cross tells us: “Endeav­our to remain always in the pres­ence of God, either real, imag­i­na­tive, or uni­tive, inso­far as is per­mit­ted by your works”.[109] In the end, our desire for God will sure­ly find expres­sion in our dai­ly lives: “Try to be con­tin­u­ous in prayer, and in the midst of bod­i­ly exer­cis­es do not leave it. Whether you eat, drink, talk with oth­ers, or do any­thing, always go to God and attach your heart to him”.[110]

149. For this to hap­pen, how­ev­er, some moments spent alone with God are also nec­es­sary. For Saint Tere­sa of Avi­la, prayer “is noth­ing but friend­ly inter­course, and fre­quent soli­tary con­verse, with him who we know loves us”.[111] I would insist that this is true not only for a priv­i­leged few, but for all of us, for “we all have need of this silence, filled with the pres­ence of him who is adored”.[112] Trust-filled prayer is a response of a heart open to encoun­ter­ing God face to face, where all is peace­ful and the qui­et voice of the Lord can be heard in the midst of silence.

150. In that silence, we can dis­cern, in the light of the Spir­it, the paths of holi­ness to which the Lord is call­ing us. Oth­er­wise, any deci­sions we make may only be win­dow-dress­ing that, rather than exalt­ing the Gospel in our lives, will mask or sub­merge it. For each dis­ci­ple, it is essen­tial to spend time with the Mas­ter, to lis­ten to his words, and to learn from him always. Unless we lis­ten, all our words will be noth­ing but use­less chatter.

151. We need to remem­ber that “con­tem­pla­tion of the face of Jesus, died and risen, restores our human­i­ty, even when it has been bro­ken by the trou­bles of this life or marred by sin. We must not domes­ti­cate the pow­er of the face of Christ”.[113] So let me ask you: Are there moments when you place your­self qui­et­ly in the Lord’s pres­ence, when you calm­ly spend time with him, when you bask in his gaze? Do you let his fire inflame your heart? Unless you let him warm you more and more with his love and ten­der­ness, you will not catch fire. How will you then be able to set the hearts of oth­ers on fire by your words and wit­ness? If, gaz­ing on the face of Christ, you feel unable to let your­self be healed and trans­formed, then enter into the Lord’s heart, into his wounds, for that is the abode of divine mer­cy.[114]

152. I ask that we nev­er regard prayer­ful silence as a form of escape and rejec­tion of the world around us. The Russ­ian pil­grim, who prayed con­stant­ly, says that such prayer did not sep­a­rate him from what was hap­pen­ing all around him. “Every­body was kind to me; it was as though every­one loved me… Not only did I feel [hap­pi­ness and con­so­la­tion] in my own soul, but the whole out­side world also seemed to me full of charm and delight”.[115]

153. Nor does his­to­ry van­ish. Prayer, because it is nour­ished by the gift of God present and at work in our lives, must always be marked by remem­brance. The mem­o­ry of God’s works is cen­tral to the expe­ri­ence of the covenant between God and his peo­ple. God wished to enter his­to­ry, and so our prayer is inter­wo­ven with mem­o­ries. We think back not only on his revealed Word, but also on our own lives, the lives of oth­ers, and all that the Lord has done in his Church. This is the grate­ful mem­o­ry that Saint Ignatius of Loy­ola refers to in his Con­tem­pla­tion for Attain­ing Love,[116] when he asks us to be mind­ful of all the bless­ings we have received from the Lord. Think of your own his­to­ry when you pray, and there you will find much mer­cy. This will also increase your aware­ness that the Lord is ever mind­ful of you; he nev­er for­gets you. So it makes sense to ask him to shed light on the small­est details of your life, for he sees them all.

154. Prayer of sup­pli­ca­tion is an expres­sion of a heart that trusts in God and real­izes that of itself it can do noth­ing. The life of God’s faith­ful peo­ple is marked by con­stant sup­pli­ca­tion born of faith-filled love and great con­fi­dence. Let us not down­play prayer of peti­tion, which so often calms our hearts and helps us per­se­vere in hope. Prayer of inter­ces­sion has par­tic­u­lar val­ue, for it is an act of trust in God and, at the same time, an expres­sion of love for our neigh­bour. There are those who think, based on a one-sided spir­i­tu­al­i­ty, that prayer should be unal­loyed con­tem­pla­tion of God, free of all dis­trac­tion, as if the names and faces of oth­ers were some­how an intru­sion to be avoid­ed. Yet in real­i­ty, our prayer will be all the more pleas­ing to God and more effec­tive for our growth in holi­ness if, through inter­ces­sion, we attempt to prac­tise the twofold com­mand­ment that Jesus left us. Inter­ces­so­ry prayer is an expres­sion of our fra­ter­nal con­cern for oth­ers, since we are able to embrace their lives, their deep­est trou­bles and their lofti­est dreams. Of those who com­mit them­selves gen­er­ous­ly to inter­ces­so­ry prayer we can apply the words of Scrip­ture: “This is a man who loves the brethren and prays much for the peo­ple” (2 Mac 15:14).

155. If we real­ize that God exists, we can­not help but wor­ship him, at times in qui­et won­der, and praise him in fes­tive song. We thus share in the expe­ri­ence of Blessed Charles de Fou­cauld, who said: “As soon as I believed that there was a God, I under­stood that I could do noth­ing oth­er than to live for him”.[117] In the life of God’s pil­grim peo­ple, there can be many sim­ple ges­tures of pure ado­ra­tion, as when “the gaze of a pil­grim rests on an image that sym­bol­izes God’s affec­tion and close­ness. Love paus­es, con­tem­plates the mys­tery, and enjoys it in silence”.[118]

156. The prayer­ful read­ing of God’s word, which is “sweet­er than hon­ey” (Ps 119:103) yet a “two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12), enables us to pause and lis­ten to the voice of the Mas­ter. It becomes a lamp for our steps and a light for our path (cf. Ps119:105). As the bish­ops of India have remind­ed us, “devo­tion to the word of God is not sim­ply one of many devo­tions, beau­ti­ful but some­what option­al. It goes to the very heart and iden­ti­ty of Chris­t­ian life. The word has the pow­er to trans­form lives”.[119]

157. Meet­ing Jesus in the Scrip­tures leads us to the Eucharist, where the writ­ten word attains its great­est effi­ca­cy, for there the liv­ing Word is tru­ly present. In the Eucharist, the one true God receives the great­est wor­ship the world can give him, for it is Christ him­self who is offered. When we receive him in Holy Com­mu­nion, we renew our covenant with him and allow him to car­ry out ever more ful­ly his work of trans­form­ing our lives.




158. The Chris­t­ian life is a con­stant bat­tle. We need strength and courage to with­stand the temp­ta­tions of the dev­il and to pro­claim the Gospel. This bat­tle is sweet, for it allows us to rejoice each time the Lord tri­umphs in our lives.


159. We are not deal­ing mere­ly with a bat­tle against the world and a world­ly men­tal­i­ty that would deceive us and leave us dull and mediocre, lack­ing in enthu­si­asm and joy. Nor can this bat­tle be reduced to the strug­gle against our human weak­ness­es and pro­cliv­i­ties (be they lazi­ness, lust, envy, jeal­ousy or any oth­ers). It is also a con­stant strug­gle against the dev­il, the prince of evil. Jesus him­self cel­e­brates our vic­to­ries. He rejoiced when his dis­ci­ples made progress in preach­ing the Gospel and over­com­ing the oppo­si­tion of the evil one: “I saw Satan fall like light­ning from heav­en” (Lk 10:18).

More than a myth 

160. We will not admit the exis­tence of the dev­il if we insist on regard­ing life by empir­i­cal stan­dards alone, with­out a super­nat­ur­al under­stand­ing. It is pre­cise­ly the con­vic­tion that this malign pow­er is present in our midst that enables us to under­stand how evil can at times have so much destruc­tive force. True enough, the bib­li­cal authors had lim­it­ed con­cep­tu­al resources for express­ing cer­tain real­i­ties, and in Jesus’ time epilep­sy, for exam­ple, could eas­i­ly be con­fused with demon­ic pos­ses­sion. Yet this should not lead us to an over­sim­pli­fi­ca­tion that would con­clude that all the cas­es relat­ed in the Gospel had to do with psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­or­ders and hence that the dev­il does not exist or is not at work. He is present in the very first pages of the Scrip­tures, which end with God’s vic­to­ry over the dev­il.[120] Indeed, in leav­ing us the Our Father, Jesus want­ed us to con­clude by ask­ing the Father to “deliv­er us from evil”. That final word does not refer to evil in the abstract; a more exact trans­la­tion would be “the evil one”. It indi­cates a per­son­al being who assails us. Jesus taught us to ask dai­ly for deliv­er­ance from him, lest his pow­er pre­vail over us.

161. Hence, we should not think of the dev­il as a myth, a rep­re­sen­ta­tion, a sym­bol, a fig­ure of speech or an idea.[121] This mis­take would lead us to let down our guard, to grow care­less and end up more vul­ner­a­ble. The dev­il does not need to pos­sess us. He poi­sons us with the ven­om of hatred, des­o­la­tion, envy and vice. When we let down our guard, he takes advan­tage of it to destroy our lives, our fam­i­lies and our com­mu­ni­ties. “Like a roar­ing lion, he prowls around, look­ing for some­one to devour” (1 Pet5:8).

Alert and trustful

162. God’s word invites us clear­ly to “stand against the wiles of the dev­il” (Eph 6:11) and to “quench all the flam­ing darts of the evil one” (Eph 6:16). These expres­sions are not melo­dra­mat­ic, pre­cise­ly because our path towards holi­ness is a con­stant bat­tle. Those who do not real­ize this will be prey to fail­ure or medi­oc­rity. 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. If we become care­less, the false promis­es of evil will eas­i­ly seduce us. As the saint­ed Cura Brochero observed: “What good is it when Lucifer promis­es you free­dom and show­ers you with all his ben­e­fits, if those ben­e­fits are false, decep­tive and poi­so­nous?”[122]

163. Along this jour­ney, the cul­ti­va­tion of all that is good, progress in the spir­i­tu­al life and growth in love are the best coun­ter­bal­ance to evil. 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. Even less if they fall into defeatism, for “if we start with­out con­fi­dence, we have already lost half the bat­tle and we bury our tal­ents… Chris­t­ian tri­umph is always a cross, yet a cross which is at the same time a vic­to­ri­ous ban­ner, borne with aggres­sive ten­der­ness against the assaults of evil”.[123]

Spir­i­tu­al corruption

164. The path of holi­ness is a source of peace and joy, giv­en to us by the Spir­it. At the same time, it demands that we keep “our lamps lit” (Lk 12:35) and be atten­tive. “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess 5:22). “Keep awake” (Mt 24:42; Mk 13:35). “Let us not fall asleep” (1 Thess 5:6). Those who think they com­mit no griev­ous sins against God’s law can fall into a state of dull lethar­gy. Since they see noth­ing seri­ous to reproach them­selves with, they fail to real­ize that their spir­i­tu­al life has grad­u­al­ly turned luke­warm. They end up weak­ened and corrupted.

165. Spir­i­tu­al cor­rup­tion is worse than the fall of a sin­ner, for it is a com­fort­able and self-sat­is­fied form of blind­ness. Every­thing then appears accept­able: decep­tion, slan­der, ego­tism and oth­er sub­tle forms of self-cen­tred­ness, for “even Satan dis­guis­es him­self as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). So Solomon end­ed his days, where­as David, who sinned great­ly, was able to make up for dis­grace. Jesus warned us against this self-decep­tion that eas­i­ly leads to cor­rup­tion. He spoke of a per­son freed from the dev­il who, con­vinced that his life was now in order, end­ed up being pos­sessed by sev­en oth­er evil spir­its (cf. Lk 11:24–26). Anoth­er bib­li­cal text puts it blunt­ly: “The dog turns back to his own vom­it” (2 Pet 2:22; cf. Pr 26:11).


166. How can we know if some­thing comes from the Holy Spir­it or if it stems from the spir­it of the world or the spir­it of the dev­il? The only way is through dis­cern­ment, which calls for some­thing more than intel­li­gence or com­mon sense. It is a gift which we must implore. If we ask with con­fi­dence that the Holy Spir­it grant us this gift, and then seek to devel­op it through prayer, reflec­tion, read­ing and good coun­sel, then sure­ly we will grow in this spir­i­tu­al endowment.

An urgent need

167. The gift of dis­cern­ment has become all the more nec­es­sary today, since con­tem­po­rary life offers immense pos­si­bil­i­ties for action and dis­trac­tion, and the world presents all of them as valid and good. All of us, but espe­cial­ly the young, are immersed in a cul­ture of zap­ping. We can nav­i­gate simul­ta­ne­ous­ly on two or more screens and inter­act at the same time with two or three vir­tu­al sce­nar­ios. With­out the wis­dom of dis­cern­ment, we can eas­i­ly become prey to every pass­ing trend.

168. This is all the more impor­tant when some nov­el­ty presents itself in our lives. Then we have to decide whether it is new wine brought by God or an illu­sion cre­at­ed by the spir­it of this world or the spir­it of the dev­il. At oth­er times, the oppo­site can hap­pen, when the forces of evil induce us not to change, to leave things as they are, to opt for a rigid resis­tance to change. Yet that would be to block the work­ing of the Spir­it. We are free, with the free­dom of Christ. Still, he asks us to exam­ine what is with­in us – our desires, anx­i­eties, fears and ques­tions – and what takes place all around us – “the signs of the times” – and thus to rec­og­nize the paths that lead to com­plete free­dom. “Test every­thing; hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess 5:21).

Always in the light of the Lord

169. Dis­cern­ment is nec­es­sary not only at extra­or­di­nary times, when we need to resolve grave prob­lems and make cru­cial deci­sions. It is a means of spir­i­tu­al com­bat for help­ing us to fol­low the Lord more faith­ful­ly. We need it at all times, to help us rec­og­nize God’s timetable, lest we fail to heed the prompt­ings of his grace and dis­re­gard his invi­ta­tion to grow. Often dis­cern­ment is exer­cised in small and appar­ent­ly irrel­e­vant things, since great­ness of spir­it is man­i­fest­ed in sim­ple every­day real­i­ties.[124] It involves striv­ing untram­melled for all that is great, bet­ter and more beau­ti­ful, while at the same time being con­cerned for the lit­tle things, for each day’s respon­si­bil­i­ties and com­mit­ments. For this rea­son, I ask all Chris­tians not to omit, in dia­logue with the Lord, a sin­cere dai­ly “exam­i­na­tion of con­science”. Dis­cern­ment also enables us to rec­og­nize the con­crete means that the Lord pro­vides in his mys­te­ri­ous and lov­ing plan, to make us move beyond mere good intentions.

A super­nat­ur­al gift

170. Cer­tain­ly, spir­i­tu­al dis­cern­ment does not exclude exis­ten­tial, psy­cho­log­i­cal, soci­o­log­i­cal or moral insights drawn from the human sci­ences. At the same time, it tran­scends them. Nor are the Church’s sound norms suf­fi­cient. We should always remem­ber that dis­cern­ment is a grace. Even though it includes rea­son and pru­dence, it goes beyond them, for it seeks a glimpse of that unique and mys­te­ri­ous plan that God has for each of us, which takes shape amid so many var­ied sit­u­a­tions and lim­i­ta­tions. It involves more than my tem­po­ral well-being, my sat­is­fac­tion at hav­ing accom­plished some­thing use­ful, or even my desire for peace of mind. It has to do with the mean­ing of my life before the Father who knows and loves me, with the real pur­pose of my life, which nobody knows bet­ter than he. Ulti­mate­ly, dis­cern­ment leads to the well­spring of undy­ing life: to know the Father, the only true God, and the one whom he has sent, Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 17:3). It requires no spe­cial abil­i­ties, nor is it only for the more intel­li­gent or bet­ter edu­cat­ed. The Father read­i­ly reveals him­self to the low­ly (cf. Mt 11:25).

171. The Lord speaks to us in a vari­ety of ways, at work, through oth­ers and at every moment. Yet we sim­ply can­not do with­out the silence of pro­longed prayer, which enables us bet­ter to per­ceive God’s lan­guage, to inter­pret the real mean­ing of the inspi­ra­tions we believe we have received, to calm our anx­i­eties and to see the whole of our exis­tence afresh in his own light. In this way, we allow the birth of a new syn­the­sis that springs from a life inspired by the Spirit.

Speak, Lord

172. Nonethe­less, it is pos­si­ble that, even in prayer itself, we could refuse to let our­selves be con­front­ed by the free­dom of the Spir­it, who acts as he wills. We must remem­ber that prayer­ful dis­cern­ment must be born of a readi­ness to lis­ten: to the Lord and to oth­ers, and to real­i­ty itself, which always chal­lenges us in new ways. Only if we are pre­pared to lis­ten, do we have the free­dom to set aside our own par­tial or insuf­fi­cient ideas, our usu­al habits and ways of see­ing things. In this way, we become tru­ly open to accept­ing a call that can shat­ter our secu­ri­ty, but lead us to a bet­ter life. It is not enough that every­thing be calm and peace­ful. God may be offer­ing us some­thing more, but in our com­fort­able inad­ver­tence, we do not rec­og­nize it.

173. Nat­u­ral­ly, this atti­tude of lis­ten­ing entails obe­di­ence to the Gospel as the ulti­mate stan­dard, but also to the Mag­is­teri­um that guards it, as we seek to find in the trea­sury of the Church what­ev­er is most fruit­ful for the “today” of sal­va­tion. It is not a mat­ter of apply­ing rules or repeat­ing what was done in the past, since the same solu­tions are not valid in all cir­cum­stances and what was use­ful in one con­text may not prove so in anoth­er. The dis­cern­ment of spir­its lib­er­ates us from rigid­i­ty, which has no place before the peren­ni­al “today” of the risen Lord. The Spir­it alone can pen­e­trate what is obscure and hid­den in every sit­u­a­tion, and grasp its every nuance, so that the new­ness of the Gospel can emerge in anoth­er light.

The log­ic of gift and of the cross

174. An essen­tial con­di­tion for progress in dis­cern­ment is a grow­ing under­stand­ing of God’s patience and his timetable, which are nev­er our own. God does not pour down fire upon those who are unfaith­ful (cf. Lk 9:54), or allow the zeal­ous to uproot the tares grow­ing among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:29). Gen­eros­i­ty too is demand­ed, for “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts20:35). Dis­cern­ment is not about dis­cov­er­ing what more we can get out of this life, but about rec­og­niz­ing how we can bet­ter accom­plish the mis­sion entrust­ed to us at our bap­tism. This entails a readi­ness to make sac­ri­fices, even to sac­ri­fic­ing every­thing. For hap­pi­ness is a para­dox. We expe­ri­ence it most when we accept the mys­te­ri­ous log­ic that is not of this world: “This is our log­ic”, says Saint Bonaven­ture,[125] point­ing to the cross. Once we enter into this dynam­ic, we will not let our con­sciences be numbed and we will open our­selves gen­er­ous­ly to discernment.

175. When, in God’s pres­ence, we exam­ine our life’s jour­ney, no areas can be off lim­its. In all aspects of life we can con­tin­ue to grow and offer some­thing greater to God, even in those areas we find most dif­fi­cult. We need, though, to ask the Holy Spir­it to lib­er­ate us and to expel the fear that makes us ban him from cer­tain parts of our lives. God asks every­thing of us, yet he also gives every­thing to us. He does not want to enter our lives to crip­ple or dimin­ish them, but to bring them to ful­fil­ment. Dis­cern­ment, then, is not a solip­sis­tic self-analy­sis or a form of ego­tis­ti­cal intro­spec­tion, but an authen­tic process of leav­ing our­selves behind in order to approach the mys­tery of God, who helps us to car­ry out the mis­sion to which he has called us, for the good of our broth­ers and sisters.

* * *

176. I would like these reflec­tions to be crowned by Mary, because she lived the Beat­i­tudes of Jesus as none oth­er. She is that woman who rejoiced in the pres­ence of God, who trea­sured every­thing in her heart, and who let her­self be pierced by the sword. Mary is the saint among the saints, blessed above all oth­ers. She teach­es us the way of holi­ness and she walks ever at our side. She does not let us remain fall­en and at times she takes us into her arms with­out judg­ing us. Our con­verse with her con­soles, frees and sanc­ti­fies us. Mary our Moth­er does not need a flood of words. She does not need us to tell her what is hap­pen­ing in our lives. All we need do is whis­per, time and time again: “Hail Mary…”

177. It is my hope that these pages will prove help­ful by enabling the whole Church to devote her­self anew to pro­mot­ing the desire for holi­ness. Let us ask the Holy Spir­it to pour out upon us a fer­vent long­ing to be saints for God’s greater glo­ry, and let us encour­age one anoth­er in this effort. In this way, we will share a hap­pi­ness that the world will not be able to take from us.

Giv­en in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 19 March, the Solem­ni­ty of Saint Joseph, in the year 2018, the sixth of my Pontificate.


[1] BENEDICT XVI, Homi­ly for the Solemn Inau­gu­ra­tion of the Petrine Min­istry (24 April 2005): AAS 97 (2005), 708.

[2] This always pre­sumes a rep­u­ta­tion of holi­ness and the exer­cise, at least to an ordi­nary degree, of the Chris­t­ian virtues: cf. Motu Pro­prio Maiorem Hac Dilec­tionem (11 July 2017), Art. 2c: L’Osservatore Romano, 12 July 2017, p. 8.

[3] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dog­mat­ic Con­sti­tu­tion on the Church Lumen Gen­tium, 9.

[4] Cf. JOSEPH MALEGUE, Pier­res noires. Les class­es moyennes du Salut, Paris, 1958.

[5] SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dog­mat­ic Con­sti­tu­tion on the Church Lumen Gen­tium, 12.

[6] Ver­bor­genes Leben und Epiphanie: GW XI, 145.

[7] JOHN PAUL II, Encycli­cal Let­ter Novo Mil­len­nio Ine­unte (6 Jan­u­ary 2001), 56: AAS 93 (2001), 307.

[8] Encycli­cal Let­ter Ter­tio Mil­len­nio Adve­niente (10 Novem­ber 1994), 37: AAS 87 (1995), 29.

[9] Homi­ly for the Ecu­meni­cal Com­mem­o­ra­tion of Wit­ness­es to the Faith in the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tu­ry (7 May 2000), 5: AAS 92 (2000), 680–681.

[10] Dog­mat­ic Con­sti­tu­tion on the Church Lumen Gen­tium, 11.

[11] Cf. HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, “The­ol­o­gy and Holi­ness”, in Com­mu­nio 14/4 (1987), 345.

[12] Spir­i­tu­al Can­ti­cle, Red. B, Pro­logue, 2.

[13] Cf. ibid., 14–15, 2.

[14] Cf. Cat­e­ch­esis, Gen­er­al Audi­ence of 19 Novem­ber 2014: Inseg­na­men­ti II/2 (2014), 555.

[15] FRANCIS DE SALES, Trea­tise on the Love of God, VIII, 11.

[16] Five Loaves and Two Fish, Pauline Books and Media, 2003, pp. 9, 13.

[17] NEW ZEALAND CATHOLIC BISHOPS’ CONFERENCE, Heal­ing Love, 1 Jan­u­ary 1988.

[18] Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es, 102–312.

[19] Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, 515.

[20] Ibid., 516.

[21] Ibid., 517.

[22] Ibid., 518.

[23] Ibid., 521.

[24] BENEDICT XVI, Cat­e­ch­esis, Gen­er­al Audi­ence of 13 April 2011: Inseg­na­men­ti VII (2011), 451.

[25] Ibid., 450.

[26] Cf. HANS URS VON BALTHASAR, “The­ol­o­gy and Holi­ness”, in Com­mu­nio 14/4 (1987), 341–350.

[27] XAVIER ZUBIRI, Nat­u­raleza, his­to­ria, Dios, Madrid, 19933, 427.

[28] CARLO M. MARTINI, Le con­fes­sioni di Pietro, Cinisel­lo Bal­samo, 2017, 69.

[29] We need to dis­tin­guish between this kind of super­fi­cial enter­tain­ment and a healthy cul­ture of leisure, which opens us to oth­ers and to real­i­ty itself in a spir­it of open­ness and contemplation.

[30] JOHN PAUL II, Homi­ly at the Mass of Can­on­iza­tion (1 Octo­ber 2000), 5: AAS 92 (2000), 852.

[31] REGIONAL EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE OF WEST AFRICA, Pas­toral Mes­sage at the End of the Sec­ond Ple­nary Assem­bly, 29 Feb­ru­ary 2016, 2.

[32] La femme pau­vre, Paris, II, 27.

[33] Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Let­ter Placuit Deo on Cer­tain Aspects of Chris­t­ian Sal­va­tion (22 Feb­ru­ary 2018), 4, in L’Osservatore Romano, 2 March 2018, pp. 4–5: “Both neo-Pela­gian indi­vid­u­al­ism and the neo-Gnos­tic dis­re­gard of the body deface the con­fes­sion of faith in Christ, the one, uni­ver­sal Sav­iour”. This doc­u­ment pro­vides the doc­tri­nal bases for under­stand­ing Chris­t­ian sal­va­tion in ref­er­ence to con­tem­po­rary neo-gnos­tic and neo-pela­gian tendencies.

[34] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 94: AAS 105 (2013), 1060.

[35] Ibid.: AAS 105 (2013), 1059.

[36] Homi­ly at Mass in Casa San­ta Mar­ta, 11 Novem­ber 2016: L’Osservatore Romano, 12 Novem­ber 2016, p. 8.

[37] As Saint Bonaven­ture teach­es, “we must sus­pend all the oper­a­tions of the mind and we must trans­form the peak of our affec­tions, direct­ing them to God alone… Since nature can achieve noth­ing and per­son­al effort very lit­tle, it is nec­es­sary to give lit­tle impor­tance to inves­ti­ga­tion and much to unc­tion, lit­tle to speech and much to inte­ri­or joy, lit­tle to words or writ­ing but all to the gift of God, name­ly the Holy Spir­it, lit­tle or no impor­tance should be giv­en to the crea­ture, but all to the Cre­ator, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spir­it”: BONAVENTURE, Itin­er­ar­i­um Men­tis in Deum, VII, 4–5.

[38] Cf. Let­ter to the Grand Chan­cel­lor of the Pon­tif­i­cal Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Argenti­na for the Cen­te­nary of the Found­ing of the Fac­ul­ty of The­ol­o­gy (3 March 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 9–10 March 2015, p. 6.

[39] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 40: AAS 105 (2013), 1037.

[40] Video Mes­sage to Par­tic­i­pants in an Inter­na­tion­al The­o­log­i­cal Con­gress held at the Pon­tif­i­cal Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Argenti­na(1–3 Sep­tem­ber 2015): AAS 107 (2015), 980.

[41] Post-Syn­odal Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Vita Con­se­cra­ta (25 March 1996), 38: AAS 88 (1996), 412.

[42] Let­ter to the Grand Chan­cel­lor of the Pon­tif­i­cal Catholic Uni­ver­si­ty of Argenti­na for the Cen­te­nary of the Found­ing of the Fac­ul­ty of The­ol­o­gy (3 March 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 9–10 March 2015, p. 6.

[43] Let­ter to Broth­er Antho­ny, 2: FF 251.

[44] De septem donis, 9, 15.

[45] In IV Sent. 37, 1, 3, ad 6.

[46] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 94: AAS 105 (2013), 1059.

[47] Cf. Bonaven­ture, De sex alis Seraphim, 3, 8: “Non omnes omnia pos­sunt”. The phrase is to be under­stood along the lines of the Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, 1735.

[48] Cf. THOMAS AQUINAS, Sum­ma The­olo­giae II-II, q. 109, a. 9, ad 1: “But here grace is to some extent imper­fect, inas­much as it does not com­plete­ly heal man, as we have said”.

[49] Cf. De natu­ra et gra­tia, 43, 50: PL 44, 271.

[50] Con­fes­siones, X, 29, 40: PL 32, 796.

[51] Cf. Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 44: AAS 105 (2013), 1038.

[52] In the under­stand­ing of Chris­t­ian faith, grace pre­cedes, accom­pa­nies and fol­lows all our actions (cf. ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF TRENT, Ses­sion VI, Decree on Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, ch. 5: DH 1525).

[53] Cf. In Ep. ad Romanos, 9, 11: PG 60, 470.

[54] Homil­ia de Humil­i­tate: PG 31, 530.

[55] Canon 4: DH 374.

[56] Ses­sion VI, Decree on Jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, ch. 8: DH 1532.

[57] No. 1998.

[58] Ibid., 2007.

[59] Thomas Aquinas, Sum­ma The­olo­giae, I‑II, q. 114, a. 5.

[60] ThÉrÈse of the Child Jesus, “Act of Offer­ing to Mer­ci­ful Love” (Prayers, 6).

[61] Lucio Gera, Sobre el mis­te­rio del pobre, in P. GRELOT‑L. GERA‑A. DUMAS, El Pobre, Buenos Aires, 1962, 103.

[62] This is, in a word, the Catholic doc­trine on “mer­it” sub­se­quent to jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: it has to do with the coop­er­a­tion of the jus­ti­fied for growth in the life of grace (cf. Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, 2010). Yet this coop­er­a­tion in no way makes jus­ti­fi­ca­tion itself or friend­ship with God the object of human merit.

[63] Cf. Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 95: AAS 105 (2013), 1060.[64] Sum­ma The­olo­giae I‑II, q. 107, art. 4.

[65] FRANCIS, Homi­ly at Mass for the Jubilee of Social­ly Exclud­ed Peo­ple (13 Novem­ber 2016): L’Osservatore Romano, 14–15 Novem­ber 2016, p. 8.

[66] Cf. Homi­ly at Mass in Casa San­ta Mar­ta, 9 June 2014: L’Osservatore Romano, 10 June 2014, p. 8.

[67] The order of the sec­ond and third Beat­i­tudes varies in accor­dance with the dif­fer­ent tex­tu­al traditions.

[68] Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es, 23d.

[69] Man­u­script C, 12r.

[70] From the patris­tic era, the Church has val­ued the gift of tears, as seen in the fine prayer “Ad petendam com­punc­tionem cordis”. It reads: “Almighty and most mer­ci­ful God, who brought forth from the rock a spring of liv­ing water for your thirst­ing peo­ple: bring forth tears of com­punc­tion from our hard­ness of heart, that we may grieve for our sins, and, by your mer­cy, obtain their for­give­ness” (cf. Missale Romanum, ed. typ. 1962, p. [110]).

[71] Cat­e­chism of the Catholic Church, 1789; cf. 1970.

[72] Ibid., 1787.

[73] Detrac­tion and calum­ny are acts of ter­ror­ism: a bomb is thrown, it explodes and the attack­er walks away calm and con­tent­ed. This is com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent from the nobil­i­ty of those who speak to oth­ers face to face, serene­ly and frankly, out of gen­uine con­cern for their good.

[74] At times, it may be nec­es­sary to speak of the dif­fi­cul­ties of a par­tic­u­lar broth­er or sis­ter. In such cas­es, it can hap­pen that an inter­pre­ta­tion is passed on in place of an objec­tive fact. Emo­tions can mis­con­strue and alter the facts of a mat­ter, and end up pass­ing them on laced with sub­jec­tive ele­ments. In this way, nei­ther the facts them­selves nor the truth of the oth­er per­son are respected.

[75] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion, Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 218: AAS 105 (2013), 1110.

[76] Ibid., 239: 1116.

[77] Ibid., 227: 1112.

[78] Encycli­cal Let­ter Cen­tes­imus Annus (1 May 1991), 41c: AAS 81 (1993), 844–845.

[79] Apos­tolic Let­ter Novo Mil­len­nio Ine­unte (6 Jan­u­ary 2001), 49: AAS 93 (2001), 302.

[80] Ibid.

[81] Bull Mis­eri­cor­diae Vul­tus (11 April 2015), 12: AAS 107 (2015), 407.

[82] We can recall the Good Samaritan’s reac­tion upon meet­ing the man attacked by rob­bers and left for dead (cf. Lk 10:30–37).

[83] SOCIAL AFFAIRS COMMISSION OF THE CANADIAN CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS, Open Let­ter to the Mem­bers of Par­lia­ment, The Com­mon Good or Exclu­sion: A Choice for Cana­di­ans (1 Feb­ru­ary 2001), 9.

[84] The Fifth Gen­er­al Con­fer­ence of the Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean Bish­ops, echo­ing the Church’s con­stant teach­ing, stat­ed that human beings “are always sacred, from their con­cep­tion, at all stages of exis­tence, until their nat­ur­al death, and after death”, and that life must be safe­guard­ed “start­ing at con­cep­tion, in all its stages, until nat­ur­al death” (Apare­ci­da Doc­u­ment, 29 June 2007, 388; 464).

[85] Rule, 53, 1: PL 66, 749.

[86] Cf. ibid., 53, 7: PL 66, 750.

[87] Ibid., 53, 15: PL 66, 751.

[88] Bull Mis­eri­cor­diae Vul­tus (11 April 2015), 9: AAS 107 (2015), 405.

[89] Ibid., 10, 406.

[90] Post-Syn­odal Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Amor­is Laeti­tia (19 March 2016), 311: AAS 108 (2016), 439.

[91] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 197: AAS 105 (2013), 1103.

[92] Cf. Sum­ma The­olo­giae, II-II, q. 30, a. 4.

[93] Ibid., ad 1.

[94] Cit­ed (in Span­ish trans­la­tion) in: Cristo en los Pobres, Madrid, 1981, 37–38.

[95] There are some forms of bul­ly­ing that, while seem­ing del­i­cate or respect­ful and even quite spir­i­tu­al, cause great dam­age to oth­ers’ self-esteem.

[96] Pre­cau­tions, 13.

[97] Ibid., 13.

[98] Cf. Diary. Divine Mer­cy in My Soul, Stock­bridge, 2000, p. 139 (300).

[99] THOMAS AQUINAS, Sum­ma The­olo­giae, I‑II, q. 70, a. 3.

[100] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 6: AAS 105 (2013), 1221.

[101] I rec­om­mend pray­ing the 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”.

[102] Post-Syn­odal Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Amor­is Laeti­tia (19 March 2016), 110: AAS 108 (2016), 354.

[103] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Nun­tian­di (8 Decem­ber 1975), 80: AAS 68 (1976), 73. It is worth not­ing that in this text Blessed Paul VI close­ly links joy and par­rhesía. While lament­ing a “lack of joy and hope” as an obsta­cle to evan­ge­liza­tion, he extols the “delight­ful and com­fort­ing joy of evan­ge­liz­ing”, linked to “an inte­ri­or enthu­si­asm that nobody and noth­ing can quench”. This ensures that the world does not receive the Gospel “from evan­ge­liz­ers who are deject­ed [and] dis­cour­aged”. Dur­ing the 1975 Holy Year, Pope Paul devot­ed to joy his Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Gaudete in Domi­no (9 May 1975): AAS 67 (1975), 289–322.

[104] Pre­cau­tions, 15.

[105] JOHN PAUL II, Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Vita Con­se­cra­ta (25 March 1996), 42: AAS 88 (1996), 416.

[106] Con­fes­siones, IX, 10, 23–25: PL 32, 773–775.

[107] I think espe­cial­ly of the three key words “please”, “thank you” and “sor­ry”. “The right words, spo­ken at the right time, dai­ly pro­tect and nur­ture love”: Post-Syn­odal Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Amor­is Laeti­tia (19 March 2016), 133: AAS 108 (2016), 363.

[108] THÉRÈSE OF THE CHILD JESUS, Man­u­script C, 29 v‑30r.

[109] Degrees of Per­fec­tion, 2.

[110] ID., Coun­sels to a Reli­gious on How to Attain Per­fec­tion, 9.

[111] Auto­bi­og­ra­phy, 8, 5.

[112] JOHN PAUL II, Apos­tolic Let­ter Ori­en­tale Lumen (2 May 1995), 16: AAS 87 (1995), 762.

[113] Meet­ing with the Par­tic­i­pants in the Fifth Con­ven­tion of the Ital­ian Church, Flo­rence, (10 Novem­ber 2015): AAS 107 (2015), 1284.

[114] Cf. BERNARD OF CLAIRVAUX, Ser­mones in Can­ticum Can­ti­co­rum, 61, 3–5: PL 183:1071–1073.

[115] The Way of a Pil­grim, New York, 1965, pp. 17, 105–106.

[116] Cf. Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es, 230–237.

[117] Let­ter to Hen­ry de Cas­tries, 14 August 1901.


[119] CONFERENCE OF CATHOLIC BISHOPS OF INDIA, Final Dec­la­ra­tion of the Twen­ty-First Ple­nary Assem­bly, 18 Feb­ru­ary 2009, 3.2.

[120] Cf. Homi­ly at Mass in Casa San­ta Mar­ta, 11 Octo­ber 2013: L’Osservatore Romano, 12 Octo­ber 2013, p. 2.

[121] Cf. PAUL VI, Cat­e­ch­esis, Gen­er­al Audi­ence of 15 Novem­ber 1972: Inseg­na­men­ti X (1972), pp. 1168–1170: “One of our great­est needs is defence against that evil which we call the dev­il… Evil is not sim­ply a defi­cien­cy, it is an effi­cien­cy, a liv­ing spir­i­tu­al being, per­vert­ed and per­vert­ing. A ter­ri­ble real­i­ty, mys­te­ri­ous and fright­ful. They no longer remain with­in the frame­work of bib­li­cal and eccle­si­as­ti­cal teach­ing who refuse to rec­og­nize its exis­tence, or who make of it an inde­pen­dent prin­ci­ple that does not have, like every crea­ture, its ori­gin in God, or explain it as a pseu­do-real­i­ty, a con­cep­tu­al and imag­i­na­tive per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of the hid­den caus­es of our misfortunes”.

[122] JOSÉ GABRIEL DEL ROSARIO BROCHERO, “Pláti­ca de las ban­deras”, in CONFERENCIA EPISCOPAL ARGENTINA, El Cura Brochero. Car­tas y ser­mones, Buenos Aires, 1999, 71.

[123] Apos­tolic Exhor­ta­tion Evan­gelii Gaudi­um (24 Novem­ber 2013), 85: AAS 105 (2013), 1056.

[124] The tomb of Saint Ignatius of Loy­ola bears this thought-pro­vok­ing inscrip­tion: Non coerceri a max­i­mo, con­teneri tamen a min­i­mo div­inum est (“Not to be con­fined by the great­est, yet to be con­tained with­in the small­est, is tru­ly divine”).

[125] Col­la­tiones in Hexa­e­meron, 1, 30.







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