Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In his recently published apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exsultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Pope Francis reminds us that everyone is called to holiness. We are all called to be saints.
This can sound like a lofty goal — something reserved for special people. It brings to mind those who are already beatified or canonized by the church — people like the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for Christ. Or St. Teresa of Calcutta, who started a religious order and devoted her entire life to helping the poorest of the poor.
Sometimes God calls people to be Gospel witnesses in these exceptional ways. But more often, he doesn’t. More often, God encourages us to answer the call to holiness in less dramatic, but no less important ways — in our day-to-day interactions with spouses, parents, students, neighbors and co-workers, right here in the Diocese of St. Cloud.
Pope Francis talks about this in a passage about the saints “next door”:
“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 neighbors, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them ‘the middle class of holiness.’”
Spending time alone with God and developing a deep, personal prayer life are essential for growing in holiness. But, as you can see from the above passage, growing in holiness also means building up the kingdom of God through service and sacrifice for others.
For this, the Beatitudes offer guidance. The pope calls them “a Christian’s identity card.” If you want to know how to live your life, you can turn to these teachings that Jesus gave in his Sermon on the Mount:
• Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God: The path to holiness requires focusing less on wealth and material things, and giving more time and attention to the most important things in life — God, our families and the needs of others, especially the poor.
• Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted: Do we show compassion (from the Latin word meaning to “suffer with”) to people we encounter who are experiencing illness or sorrow? Do we pray for them and offer our assistance?
• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled: Do we desire and work for justice on behalf of society’s most vulnerable people — the unborn, the immigrant, the marginalized and the abandoned? Are we good stewards of the Earth?
• Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy: Do we truly do to others as we would have them do to us — forgiving them for wrongs they have committed against us, and seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt?
• Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God: Holiness requires cultivating a heart in love with God and our neighbor. Do we reject cynicism and allow truth and charity to guide our thoughts and actions?
• Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God: Do we sow peace in our relationships, steer clear of gossip, and treat everyone with respect?
• Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven: Sometimes being a Christian requires us to be counter-cultural, to make the right choice, not necessarily the popular choice. Are we willing to endure opposition and even ridicule because of our faith?
Living according to the Beatitudes helps us to become the saints God wants us to be. But that doesn’t mean the journey will be easy. There will be challenges — sometimes very difficult ones — along the way. We will need God’s grace and a healthy dose of self-discipline to do it. But, thankfully, we have the support of the saints already in heaven — that “great cloud of witnesses” — who are praying and interceding for our benefit as we journey down the path of holiness.
May God bless you and your loved ones.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
+Donald J. Kettler