Reflecting on Holiness
Sr Brigid rsj is a member of the recently formed conference of the Sr Vincent de Paul Society in the MacKillop parish, which is centred in Charlestown. Here she writes about time spent with members from surrounding conferences exploring Pope Francis’ recent writing.
Recently I was privileged to take part in a day of reflection on the latest exhortation of Pope Francis, Gaudete et Exultate - Rejoice and be Glad. The title comes from Jesus’ words at the end of his discourse on the Beatitudes: Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. (Mt 5:11) Sr Carmel Moore rsj, facilitated the day for members of St Vincent de Paul conferences throughout the diocese. Carmel’s style of presentation was relaxed and engaging, allowing for a balance of input, sharing in groups and quiet time for personal reflection. Coupled with that, was the spacious venue of the all-purpose room at St Joseph’s College, Lochinvar.
Our opening prayer became one of thanksgiving for the ‘miracle of the caves’ in which members of the young soccer team in Thailand were rescued through the courage ingenuity, cooperation and sacrifice of their rescuers. This was a typical example of how God draws us from darkness to light.
Pope Francis puts a number of issues before us in Rejoice and be Glad. One, which particularly caught my attention, is The Call to Holiness. I love the way the Holy Father introduces this first chapter. In true Francis’ style he writes, What follows is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and distinctions… 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)
The call to holiness is the call to be oneself. We have the example of the saints who encourage and accompany us, that great cloud of witnesses beginning with Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Gideon. Closer to our own time we have St Therese of Lisieux who found God in doing small tasks. In my young days, I remember her being presented to us as somebody who did the ordinary things extraordinarily well. There was also Ignatius of Loyola who found God in all things and St Philip Neri, renowned for his sense of humour. The saints give us examples of how to live, but as one American commentator put it, we are not to be cookie cutter versions of them. In the words of Thomas Merton, “for me to be a saint is to be myself”.
In the mind of Francis, if we are looking for models of holiness, we need go no further than our own parents and grandparents, whose lives may not have been always perfect. Despite their faults and failings, they kept moving forward and proved themselves pleasing to the Lord. (2 Tim 1:5) They are the people Pope Francis refers to as the saints next door. Those parents who raise their children with immense love, those men and women who work hard to support their families, the sick, the elderly, and the religious who never lose their smile. Often it is our next-door neighbours, living in our midst, who reflect the presence and holiness of God.
Discernment: Francis encourages us to discern our own path to holiness and bring out the very best of ourselves. Living our lives in love and bearing witness to God in the things we do every day no matter how insignificant, can move us to holiness.
The Beatitudes are not only what Jesus means when he speaks of holiness but are a portrait of himself. He lived the beatitudes and Francis urges us to emulate him in our call to be poor, meek, peacemakers and those who thirst for righteousness. The Holy Father highlights in particular Blessed are the merciful for mercy is theme of his Papacy. He sees mercy as having two components, namely helping and serving as well as forgiving and understanding others.
I thought the day was particularly suitable for members of St Vincent de Paul conferences. Sr Catherine and I belong to the newly formed one in our parish of Mackillop. The enthusiasm of our conference members continually inspires and challenges me. They are generous in meeting the needs of those who for whatever reason, call on us for food, clothing, payment of electricity bills or those who in extreme cases are homeless.
In conclusion, my thanks go to Sr Carmel for introducing us to this wonderful document and to all who enriched our sharing with their valuable insights.