“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.”
The pope is reminding his church to “expand our view,” said Archbishop Angelo De Donatis, the vicar general of Rome.
Throughout the document, Francis urges followers 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 archconservatives 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.
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“When we allow ourselves to be caught up in superficial information, instant communication and virtual reality, we can waste precious time,” he says, adding that “all of us, but especially the young, are immersed in a culture of zapping.”
At a news conference introducing the exhortation Monday afternoon, the Vatican presented a promotional video in which a mediocre and unholy life was illustrated by a young man playing video games, while a holy life was living joyfully with one’s family. But the video, like Francis, most emphasized the need to care for the poor and to welcome migrants.
To highlight that point, the Vatican offered interviews with Mohammad Jawad Haidari, a Muslim refugee from Afghanistan. Asked what he thought about the pope explicitly putting the care for migrants on the same footing as opposition to abortion, he said, “It was a surprise, and a revolutionary text with respect of the vision I had before of the Christian world.”
Conservatives inside the Vatican have argued for years that the pope is leading the faithful astray, especially with a previous apostolic exhortation — “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love” — that signaled a pastoral path for divorced and remarried Catholics to receive holy communion.
That possibility, which critics have called heretical and schismatic, has been a rallying cry for a small but committed group of traditionalists.
When asked if the document on holiness was a response to those critics, the panelists at the Vatican news conference on Monday, including Archbishop De Donatis, looked uncomfortably at one other for several seconds before giving a roundabout answer.
But some of the passages seemed intended as a rebuke to the canon lawyers and archconservative cardinals leading the opposition to Pope Francis.
In the document, the pope excoriates Christians taking the path of “an obsession with the law, an absorption with social and political advantages, a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige.” They should instead be passionate about “seeking out the lost,” he writes.
He is also withering in his criticism of the hostile tenor that often reverberates throughout the conservative Catholic blogosphere.
“Christians, too, can be caught up in networks of verbal violence through the internet,” Francis said, citing vicious examples of defamation in some Catholic outlets where “people look to compensate for their own discontent by lashing out at others.” He adds that in upholding some commandments, they ignore the forbidding of bearing false witness and vilification. “Here we see how the unguarded tongue, set on fire by hell, sets all things ablaze,” he says.
The pope has been less critical of his liberal interlocutors, including those who sometimes put words in his mouth. One favorite, if infamously unreliable, narrator of the pope’s conversations, recently caused a controversy when he asserted that the pontiff did not believe in hell.
But in “Rejoice and Be Glad,” 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 another poke at 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.”