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‘Rejoice and be glad’: Catholics respond to pope’s letter

Pope Francis leaves St. Peter's Square at the Vatican after a Mass on the Sunday of Divine Mercy, April 8, 2018. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

(RNS) — Pope Francis’ third apostolic exhortation of his papacy, “Gaudete et Exsultate” or “Rejoice and Be Glad,” comes after his first two riled conservative Catholics.

“Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” in particular upset critics of the pope’s pastoral approach with its suggestion that divorced Catholics who remarried in civil ceremonies still could receive Communion.

More than 60 Catholic theologians, priests and academics signed on to a “filial correction” to Francis, accusing him of spreading heresy in that document.


RELATED: Pope seeks ‘saints next door,’ not doctrinaire perfectionists


In his latest apostolic exhortation on the topic of living holy in today’s world, published Monday (April 9), Francis seemed to take aim at some of those critics. He wrote about two ancient heresies and about those led by “a punctilious concern for the Church’s liturgy, doctrine and prestige” rather than love.

But those critics largely were silent in the hours after the letter was made public, and the immediate response was largely positive. Here is a sampling of the reactions, some of which have been edited for length:

The Rev. James Bretzke, theologian

Bretzke, a theologian at Boston College, posted several links to the letter on Twitter, wondering if a particular section was a “warning to EWTN and Church Militant, etc.?”

Church Militant was part of the online campaign to get the Rev. James Martin — whose latest book urges dialogue between Catholics and the LGBT community — disinvited from speaking engagements.

Bretzke noted that Francis wrote: “Even in Catholic media, limits can be overstepped, defamation and slander can become commonplace, and all ethical standards and respect for the good name of others can be abandoned.”

The theologian expanded on that in an interview with The Washington Post, saying the pope’s words “will not make liturgy traditionalists very happy. … He’s saying to these people that they might be falling into contemporary versions of ancient heresies.”

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “is welcoming” the release of the letter, according to the USCCB.

His statement read in part:

“I want to personally express my deep gratitude to the Holy Father for his powerful, straightforward words in Gaudete et Exsultate. In this exhortation, Pope Francis is very clear – he is doing his duty as the Vicar of Christ, by strongly urging each and every Christian to freely, and without any qualifications, acknowledge and be open to what God wants them to be – that is ‘to be holy, as He is holy’ (1 Pet 1:15). The mission entrusted to each of us in the waters of baptism was simple – by God’s grace and power, we are called to become saints.”

Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble

Cardinal Blase Cupich

“‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ is a powerful meditation on what it means to think about holiness not only as an abstract goal, or as a way of being reserved to the saints, but about what it means for each of us to live holiness in our everyday lives,” tweeted Cupich, the head of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Natalia Imperatori, theologian

Catholic theologian and Manhattan College professor Imperatori pointed out on Twitter that “focus on individual situations is a recurring theme for Francis,” echoed again in “Gaudete et Exsultate.”

“Discernment, a hallmark of adult faith, is more challenging than blanket pronouncements or mere repetition of norms,” she said.

Catholic Herald

“To those who dismiss Francis’s critics out of hand: imagine falling madly in love with the Church and her traditions, only to have the Holy Father call you a punctilious neo-Pelagian. What part of filial loyalty means we have to stand by and cop that abuse?” tweeted Michael Davis, U.S. editor of the Catholic Herald.

Deputy editor Dan Hitchens tweeted a bullet-pointed list of his reactions to the document, including parts he found “worryingly ambiguous.”

The Rev. James Martin, author

Martin, the popular Jesuit priest, author and editor of America magazine, tweeted that the latest apostolic exhortation “may be my favorite of all of Pope Francis’s writings.”

“It helps every person on the road to holiness, reminds us that being holy means being yourself, and takes aim at those who would reserve holiness for the few,” he said.

He also shared his Top 5 takeaways in a video for the Catholic magazine.

Meghan J. Clark, theologian

In her take for America magazine, Clark, associate professor of moral theology at St. John’s University in New York, describes “a deep simplicity at the heart of Pope Francis’ new exhortation.”

She wrote in part:

“‘Gaudete et Exsultate’ is at once theologically dense and pastorally accessible. Its modesty lies in the text’s attempt to embody the humility it proclaims; it does not propose a single path to holiness or one vision of saintly life. Rather, building upon his writing in ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ ‘Laudato Si’’ and ‘Amoris Laetitia,’ Pope Francis seeks to confirm, challenge and empower all the baptized to join the “great cloud of witnesses” that “includes our own mothers, grandmothers and loved ones.”

Cardinal Donald Wuerl

“As with any magisterial document, it will take some time to digest and unfold the gift that Pope Francis has given us,” blogged Wuerl, head of the Archdiocese of Washington.

He called it “splendid spiritual and practical guidance by Pope Francis” and summarized it like this: “The Holy Father reminds us that the Lord calls each of us to holiness and that the entirety of our lives should be seen as being on a path of personal sanctification in communion with the whole of God’s people.”

About the author

Emily McFarlan Miller

Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.

14 Comments

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  • ” The mission entrusted to each of us in the waters of baptism was simple – by God’s grace and power, we are called to become saints.” We become saints when we are born again

    1 Peter 1:3-9 English Standard Version (ESV)

    Born Again to a Living Hope

    3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

  • ““The Holy Father reminds us that the Lord calls each of us to holiness and that the entirety of our lives should be seen as being on a path of personal sanctification in communion with the whole of God’s people.” No. The Lord is calling us to Him.

  • A Pew survey in March shows a steady decline in the number of U.S. Catholics – now only 20% of the population. Of these, only 38% go to Mass weekly – also a steadily downward number.
    So the pope says a lot of nice stuff. To what effect?

  • “Caring for migrants and the poor is as holy a pursuit as opposing abortion, Pope Francis declared in a major document issued by the Vatican on Monday morning. . . .

    As he put it elsewhere in the document, ‘Seeing and acting with mercy: That is holiness.’”

    ~ Jason Horowitz, “Pope Francis Puts Caring for Migrants and Opposing Abortion on Equal Footing,” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/09/world/europe/pope-francis-migrants-abortion.html

    That this even has to be said, as if it’s a new insight to impress on Christians, is remarkable. That these words are being greeted with howls of outrage at online discussion sites, by statements that the pope is evil and is a heretic revising 2,000 years of Catholic tradition and teaching, is even more astonishing.

    What do those howls of outrage and cries that the pope is evil say about the people issuing the howls and cries? What does it say about the thing that they have made of Christianity, about their lack of any grasp of what being a follower of Jesus is all about?

  • Nice but too little too late:

    Here’s what the bishops and pope need to address ASAP before their religion implodes:

    • The inadequate response to the inappropriate conduct of many priests, the emotional stress on the victims, the resultant $1 billion in lawsuits and bankrupt dioceses.

    • The lack of talent in the priesthood, the lack of Vatican response to the historic Jesus movement, the Church’s continuing to cling to original sin and the resulting subsets of crazy ideas like baptism and limbo.

    • The denial of priesthood to women, the restriction of priesthood to single men (unless they are former Episcopalian priests), the continued chain of Vatican “leadership” by old white men and natural “birth control” leading to many unplanned pregnancies and resultant abortions.

    • Uncontrolled suffering of the elderly and infirm that need not be and unrealistic dogmas such as the Immaculate Conception, Assumption, atonement and papal infallibility.

  • It’s tough to follow JPII and B16 who inspired millions of Catholics to leave the Church of Rome because of these pontiffs’ revisionist Vatican II agendas. A future pope could undo the work of Francis.

  • “The Lord is calling us to Him.”

    Hmmm…..Matthew 25:34-46 comes to mind. The Lord is calling us to help others. In so doing, we are coming to him.

  • My fault for not clearly stating the point that this pope is not inspiring people to stay or become Catholic.

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