“That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian,” he continued, adding that welcoming the stranger at the door was fundamental to the faith. “This is not a notion invented by some Pope, or a momentary fad.”
The pope’s 103-page document — an apostolic exhortation titled “Gaudete et Exsultate,” or “Rejoice and Be Glad” — is less authoritative than a papal encyclical, but is nevertheless an important teaching pronouncement. At its outset, Francis makes clear that it is not meant “to be a treatise on holiness” but to “re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time.”
As he put it elsewhere in the document, “Seeing and acting with mercy: That is holiness.” That statement is a distilled expression of Francis’ vision of the church, which is consistent with a view articulated by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin, the archbishop of Chicago who died in 1996, and who called for a “consistent ethic of life” that wove issues of life and social justice into a “seamless garment.”
Throughout the document, Francis urges followers not to withdraw from the world but to engage with it, and to be less consumed with showy demonstrations of faith and piousness than with patiently and lovingly raising children, working hard to support families and representing what he called “the middle class of holiness.”
“In their daily perseverance, I see the holiness of the Church militant,” Francis wrote, using a phrase that has been appropriated by arch-conservatives critical of his papacy. The pope’s allies have described the fringe Catholic website Church Militant as openly in favor of political “ultraconservatism.”
But a majority of the document is a rumination on what constitutes an effective and true practice of holiness.
While he says “ the silence of prolonged prayer” is critical, Francis adds that holiness at times requires the faithful to be loud and active, and says it “is not healthy” to seek prayer while disdaining service.
He cautions against a cold reason untethered from spirituality, and warns against an overemphasis on the power of human will alone, “as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added.”
In doing so, he suggests that prosperity and power gospels fail to realize that not everyone can do everything. Holiness requires humility, he says, and a lack of “acknowledgment of our limitations prevents grace from working more effectively within us.”
In a section of the document titled “Signs of Holiness in Today’s World,” the pope explicitly laments a modern culture that includes “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.”
The pope, like many others, is also worried that social networks like Facebook feed into the hedonism and consumerism that “can prove our downfall” and are, in short, a waste of time.
“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,” he says.
At another point in the document, he expresses his concern for a contemporary culture that “offers immense possibilities for inaction and distraction.” He warns that “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.”
And despite a recent controversy caused by a favorite, if infamously unreliable, narrator of the pope’s conversations, who asserted that the pontiff did not believe in hell, Francis indicated that he had no doubt the devil is real.
“We should not think of the devil as a myth, a representation, a symbol, a figure of speech or an idea,” he writes. “This mistake would lead us to let down our guard.”
In the devil’s arsenal is the spreading of gossip, which the pope disdains, but he also expresses an intolerance for the intolerant and close-minded.
In what some Vatican watchers already interpreted as another poke at a small but vocal chorus of conservative critics inside the Vatican hierarchy, he bemoans those who would prefer a self-righteous and orthodox minority to the tough work of spreading peace by embracing “even those who are a bit odd, troublesome or difficult.”
“Sowing peace all around us,” he writes. “That is holiness.”