Saints don’t come from a ‘parallel universe’
On Thursday, October 6, the Holy Father received in audience the participants in the Symposium on “Holiness Today”, organized by the Dicastery for the Causes of Saints. Here is the English text of Pope Francis’ speech.
Dear brothers and sisters, hello !
I am happy to meet you at the end of the Symposium on “Holiness Today”, organized by the Dicastery for the Causes of the Saints. I thank Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Dicastery, and the other Superiors, Officials, Postulators and collaborators. My greetings go to all of you who have come from different parts of the world to take part in these days of study and reflection, which have been enriched by the contribution of eminent speakers representing the fields of theology, science, culture and communications.
The theme chosen for the Symposium reflects the desire of the Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete and Exultate “to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities” (n° 2). The call to holiness is at the center of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which devoted an entire chapter of the Constitution Lumen gentium to the universal vocation to holiness. The Constitution declares that “all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect” (no. 11). Today, too, it is important to appreciate the holiness present in the holy people of God: in the parents who raise their children with love, in the men and women who carry out their daily work with dedication, in those who endure sickness and infirmity patiently, and in the elderly who keep smiling and sharing their wisdom. The testimony of a virtuous Christian life given daily by so many of the Lord’s disciples is an encouragement to all of us to respond personally to our own call to be saints.
Alongside, or better, in the middle of this multitude of believers that I have called “the bourgeoisie of holiness” (Gaudete and Exultate, 7), there are those whom the Church presents to us as models, intercessors and teachers. It is the beatified and canonized saints who remind everyone that it is possible, and even gratifying, to live the Gospel fully. For holiness is not primarily a question of struggle and renunciation, a kind of “spiritual training”, but something very different. First and foremost is the realization that we are loved by God and receive his love and mercy freely. This divine gift inspires gratitude and makes us experience an immense joy that is not a passing emotion or mere human optimism, but the certainty that we can face every challenge with the grace and assurance that come from God.
Without this joy, faith shrinks into an oppressive and dull thing; the saints are not “pigs”, but men and women with joyful hearts, open to hope. John Paul I, recently beatified, gives an example of this holiness full of good humor. Blessed Carlo Acutis is also a model of Christian joy for adolescents and young people. And the evangelical and paradoxical “perfect joy” of Saint Francis of Assisi continues to impress us.
Holiness arises from the concrete life of Christian communities. The saints do not come from a “parallel universe”, but are believers who belong to the faithful people of God and are firmly anchored in a daily existence made up of family ties, studies and work, social, economic and Politics. In all these contexts, the saints constantly strive, without fear or hesitation, to do the will of God. It is important that each particular Church recognizes and values the examples of Christian life that have developed among the people of God, who have always had a particular “instinct” to recognize these models of holiness and eminent witnesses of the Gospel. Due consideration should therefore be given to the consensus of the people regarding these exemplary Christian lives. The faithful, by the grace of God, are endowed with a true spiritual sense which enables them to identify and recognize in the concrete life of certain baptized persons a heroic exercise of Christian virtues. The fama sanctitatis does not come primarily from the hierarchy but from the faithful themselves. It is the people of God, in its various components, which arouses the fama sanctitatisthat is, the common and widespread opinion on the integrity of a person’s life, perceived as a testimony of Christ and of the Gospel Beatitudes.
However, it remains to be verified that this reputation for holiness is spontaneous, stable, lasting and widespread in a significant part of the Christian community. It is indeed authentic when it resists the changes of time, the fashions of the moment, and continues to produce salutary effects for all, as evidenced by popular devotion.
Nowadays, adequate access to the media can allow a better knowledge of the Christian life of candidates for beatification or canonization. However, in the use of digital media, and social networks in particular, there may be a risk of exaggeration or misrepresentation dictated by less than noble interests. Therefore, wise discernment is required on the part of all who examine the contours of the reputation for holiness. A piece of evidence for the fama sanctitatis or the fama martiri stay the fama signorum. When the faithful are convinced of the holiness of a Christian, they have recourse, sometimes massively and passionately, to his heavenly intercession; the fact that God hears their prayers represents a confirmation of this conviction.
Dear brothers and sisters, the saints are precious pearls; they are still alive and timely. They never lose their importance, as they provide fascinating commentary on the Gospel. Their life is like a catechism in pictures, an illustration of the Good News that Jesus brought to humanity: the message that God is our Father, who loves everyone with immense love and infinite tenderness. Saint Bernard said that the contemplation of the saints in heaven filled him with an “ardent desire” (Sermon 2; Opera Omnia, Edit. Cisterc. 5, 364ff.). May their example enlighten the minds of the women and men of our time, revive faith, enliven hope and kindle charity, so that everyone may feel drawn to the beauty of the Gospel, and no one may err in the darkness of meaninglessness and despair.
I do not want to conclude without mentioning an aspect of holiness to which I devoted a brief chapter of my Exhortation Exultate and Gaudete: a sense of humor. It has been said that a sad saint is a sad excuse for a saint. Approach life with humor, because enjoying the things in life that make us smile is good for the soul. There is a prayer that I encourage you to pray – I have said it every day for over forty years. It is the prayer of Saint Thomas More. Curiously, in praying for holiness, he begins by saying: “Grant me, Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest”. He goes straight to the point, but with humor. You can find the prayer in Note 101 of Gaudete and Exultateso that you can pray it yourselves.
I hope in prayer that the ideas and proposals of your Symposium will help the Church, and society as a whole, to perceive the signs of holiness that the Lord does not cease to raise up, sometimes even in the most unthinkable way. I thank you for your work and I commend it to the maternal intercession of Mary, Queen of all Saints. I bless you with all my heart. Cardinal Semeraro has already urged you to pray for me, so I won’t say more. He has already said everything. Thanks.