By Fr Tony Percy, Vicar General, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn
Pope Francis published Rejoice and Exult in 2018, ‘On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World.’
Did the pope celebrate the feast of All Saints and then write the document? Maybe.
For it follows the structure of the readings for the celebration. Apocalypse 7 proclaims the value of witnesses, while Matthew 5 is the Beatitudes.
The saints – witnesses – encourage and accompany us. Some of them quite unexpectedly:
These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones.
Their lives may not have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord (RE, 3).
The pope is attracted to patience:
I like to contemplate 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 the 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’ (RE, 7).
To be honest, I am not sure I can reach the heights of the canonized saints – the air being a bit too rarefied.
But the breath of the Holy Spirit is there, too, for ‘the middle class of holiness.’ That appears possible.
The pope notes an insight found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1717:
The Beatitudes are a portrait of Christ. They depict his face and his love.
We normally think of the Beatitudes as the teaching of Christ, and surely this is true. However, with Christ, truth and grace are one.
The 10 Commandments defend fundamental human values – an important contribution to social cohesion and the functioning of the polity, no doubt.
But the Beatitudes penetrate beyond human capacity. Truth and grace are present beyond mere command and make present the mystery of Jesus.
This is how the Beatitudes become ‘a Christian’s identity card.’ The face and love of Christ shed light within and without, granting us a countenance exceeding human desire.
Vulnerability and Confidence
Since the time of Christ, many a commentator has offered insights into the Beatitudes. Pope Francis is now among them. He lays it all out in chapter three of Rejoice and Exult, 63-109.
Aided by sociology – and psychology, too, no doubt – modern interpretations have suggested that the Beatitudes can be divided into two, equally important sections.
The first three expound vulnerability, while the remaining five exude a quiet confidence.
In the Garden, Adam demonstrated pride and arrogance. The demon suggested that by eating the fruit, he would be like God (Genesis 3). Jesus refuses and reverses this pattern of behaviour, eschewing his divine state (Philippians 2).
No one has ever been more vulnerable than Jesus, especially in his passion and death. Yet through this event, he was totally dependent upon his Father. His silence before Pilate and his prayer to his Father, manifesting his confidence.
From our encounter with Jesus, we sense what is required to be ‘missionary disciples’ (Joy of the Gospel, 19-49).
We are no better than anyone, of course, but if we experience and accept our vulnerability, and turn to God in quiet confidence, we may well make a major difference to the spreading of the Gospel in our time.
As with most things, it is easier said than done.
Still, we are encouraged and accompanied.
We do encourage and accompany.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.