In his new Apostolic Exhortation, “Gaudete et Exsultate”, Pope Francis urges all people to strive towards holiness at all costs with the help of the Holy Spirit. Holiness is often described as being “set apart” for God, which means that Christians are expected to act differently from the majority – but that still leaves room for interpretation.
According to the Pope, “There can be any number of theories about what constitutes holiness, with various explanations and distinctions. Such reflection may be useful, but nothing is more enlightening than turning to Jesus’ words and seeing his way of teaching the truth.”
The Pope goes on to say that there is one passage of scripture that exemplifies Jesus’ teachings on holiness – the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Blessed are sorrowing, they shall be consoled.
Blessed are the meek, they shall inherit the land.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful, mercy shall be theirs.
Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the kingdom of God is theirs.
Blessed are you when men insult you and hate you and utter every kind of slander falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven will be great. (Mt 5:3-12)
Francis refers to beatitudes as the Christian’s identity card; saying that they are the very portrait of our loving Savior. The Holy Father then goes on to explain in more depth what each beatitude means in relation to holiness. When speaking of “the pure of heart”, Francis writes, “A heart that loves God and neighbor (cf. Mt 22:36-40), genuinely and not merely in words, is a pure heart; it can see God . . . Jesus promises that those who are pure in heart “will see God”. Keeping a heart free of all that tarnishes love: that is holiness.”
Fr. Spitzer in his book, Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, explains why the virtue of love is so fundamental to living out not only the beatitude for the “pure of heart”, but for the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount. He states, “The beatitudes are the definition of love that Jesus’ gives us.” Here Fr. Spitzer is not speaking of a romantic love, but love in the highest sense (AGAPE) – a sacrificial love that recognizes the dignity in each person.
This sacrificial love is exemplified in all the beatitudes, but especially in the beatitude, “Blessed are those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, the kingdom of God is theirs.” This beatitude shows that the path to holiness is not necessarily an easy one, but one with many chances to prove our love of God and neighbor freely.
Both the Holy Father in “Gaudete et Exsultate” and Fr. Spitzer in Five Pillars of the the Spiritual Life go through the list of the beatitudes to uncover the riches of each one. Thus, an excellent way to begin a path to holiness is to read those documents and to begin to live those words all the while asking the Holy Spirit to keep your heart pure and to help you be victorious in the lifelong battle of good vs. evil.