At this stage it probably goes without saying that Gaudate et Exsultate, the Pope’s new exhortation on holiness in ordinary life, was always going to be dismissed by some as like the proverbial curate’s egg: good in parts.
Writing at catholicworldreport.com, for instance, in a piece headed ‘Pope Francis “takes aim” in Gaudete et Exsultate — and misses?’ Carl Olson admits that he found parts of the exhortation “challenging, engaging and compelling”, but adds: “Unfortunately, the document also contains more than a few remarks or suggestions that are either puzzling or disconcerting—and not, I think, for the right reasons.”
Fr Dwight Longenecker, in a piece at dwightlongenecker.com called ‘Gaudate et Exsultate: coming in from the scold’, commends the document’s “good parts” as “encouraging but unremarkable” before turning to the more challenging parts of the document, observing that the Pope’s “scolding” is, to his mind, counterproductive.
“The good things he has to say and do are forgotten or lost in the scolding, and that undermines his teaching and the authority of his office,” he says, adding: “When you scold the self-righteous they either deny that they are the ones to whom you are referring or they stick out their jaw, fold their arms and hunker down. The truly self-righteous are impervious to criticism. So just smile and let them stew in their own juices and move on.”
In ‘An Ambiguous Exhortation’ at firstthings.com, Dan Hitchens says the papal document “contains much wisdom” but also other things which, he says, “may count for more in the long run”.
After blurting out a string of challenging phrases, he says these can be read simply as the Pope “reminding Catholics that our religion is more a love affair than a theory”, but points out that others may read things differently, with different readings perhaps gaining the upper hand.
I’m not sure the Pope can be blamed for people reading his writings against their plain meaning, and we should be grateful that there are plenty of people out there who have recognised just how clear and joyous the document is, with Mike Lewis’s ‘Gaudate et Exsultate: reaction roundup’ at wherepeteris.com pointing to a range of positive takes on the document.
Strikingly, however, at the same site Peter Vere writes in ‘Not an apologetic for Pope Francis and Gaudate et Exsultate’ that he’s wary of instant takes on the document, especially ones written on the day it was published.
“It is clear Pope Francis has put more than a day’s thought into this document,” he writes. “As successor to St Peter, to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Church, are Pope Francis’ magisterial teachings not worth more than a day to read, ponder and meditate upon prior to critiquing?”
A very good point, but with so many willing to sneer at the document and even dismiss it with a tweet, some positive quick takes can be very valuable, Matthew Walther’s ‘Pope Francis and the saints next door’ at theweek.com being an excellent example of such.
“Every sentence of Pope Francis’ latest apostolic exhortation contains medicine for our miserable world,” he begins, in a marvellous reading of a “wonderful document” about the importance of saying yes to God and seeing this as a cause for jubilation.
Describing the Pope’s third exhortation as “the happiest piece of writing I have come across in ages”, he rightly places it in the tradition of St Francis de Sales, observing that “there has never been a more pressing need for practical spiritual advice of the old-fashioned sort”.
It’s a superb piece of writing, by far the most compelling piece I’ve seen on the document, and something anyone intimidated or sceptical about Gaudate et Exsultate should read and absorb before turning to the Pope’s practical medicinal manual that reminds us, as Walther says, “of the simple fact that we are all called to be saints next door as well as in heaven, and the plain truth that he is a good and pious shepherd of souls”.