by Cardinal Vincent Nichols
What is your picture of holiness? In your eyes, what does a saint look like?
Pope Francis’ recent Exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (‘Rejoice and be Glad’) offers us his answers to these questions. He says that we should look for holiness not only in those who have been formally declared to be saints but also in the people ‘next door’.
He writes: ‘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...Very often it is a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence’ (GE 7).
This is the holiness to which he wants us, every one of us, to aspire. We are all called to be holy. Holiness is our destiny; it is what God has planned for us. There is nothing frightening or intimidating about this. Rather it is liberating, a way of becoming who we really are. In writing this short message, I want to urge you, everyone, to read this wonderful document. In it the Pope ‘reproposes the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time with all its risks, challenges and opportunities’ (GE 2). He does it in a way that we can all understand and follow. So, please do get a copy and read it for yourself!
Pope Francis shows us that the secret of being holy is to keep God, and not ourselves, at the centre of our lives. Only when there is space for God, and a heart centred on God, do we find the right balance and poise for our daily living. In his message, then, Pope Francis is constantly exploring the space in which God speaks to us, in which God touches our lives, in which God leads us to new life.
Pope Francis wants us, in a great struggle, to keep this space open, not letting it be shut down by fear, by rigidity, by neglect, by laziness, by the clamour of fashion, the invasion of noise or the bombardment of opinions.
Listening to God in the depth of our being, responding each day in every small way, returning to that fountain of love and mercy: this is the way of holiness he opens before each one of us.
At the end of his Exhortation, Pope Francis has a beautiful prayer in which he seeks the intercession of our Blessed Lady and begs ‘the Holy Spirit to pour out upon us a fervent longing to be saints for God’s greater glory’.
This is our true pathway in life. Let’s do our best to follow it and to encourage each other, especially within the circle of our families and friends.