Beware of fake forms of holiness
That’s one of the things Pope Francis mentioned in his latest Apostolic Exhortation, Gaudete et exsultate. We have to really know what true sanctity is, how it is attained, where to find it, how to sustain it and make it grow, etc. It cannot be denied that there are many fake forms of holiness besetting our world today, and we have to know how to identify them and avoid them. One of the fake forms is what he called as Gnosticism, actually a very old heresy that continues to hound us today but in very subtle ways.
In paragraph 36 of the document, the Pope describes Gnosticism as “a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings.”
Then in paragraph 37, he points out the consequence of this erroneous approach. “Throughout the history of the Church,” he said, “it has always been clear that a person’s perfection is measured not by the information or knowledge they possess, but by the depth of their charity.
“Gnostics do not understand this, because they judge others based on their ability to understand the complexity of certain doctrines. They think of the intellect as separate from the flesh, and thus become incapable of touching Christ’s suffering flesh in others,
locked up as they are in an encyclopaedia of abstractions. In the end, by disembodying the mystery, they prefer ‘a God without Christ, a Christ without the Church, a Church without her people.”
We need to be clear about this. While knowledge of the doctrine of the faith is indispensable, it should not be separated from the most important element of sanctity which is charity. That’s why St. Paul said: “These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13,13) Earlier, he said: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1-2)
And this love, let’s never forget it, should be the love shown and lived by Christ himself and commanded by him to be the kind of love we have for each other. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he said. (Jn 13,34) And what kind of love is shown and lived by Christ? A love that goes all the way to offer his own life for our sake, a love that knows how to bear all the sins of men. It’s not a love that is very concerned about the requirements of justice, because in the end, in spite of our best efforts, we know that we can never fully meet these requirements.
And so we have to see to it that our growth in the knowledge of the doctrine of our faith should lead us first of all in the growth of the charity as shown and lived by Christ. If we notice that our doctrinal knowledge makes us feel superior to others, leading us to look down on them, to be rash in our judgments, let’s be convinced that we are on the wrong track toward true holiness. We would be following a fake one.
True holiness should make us always humble, compassionate, patient, merciful, willing to bear the burden of the others, never mind if in our human standards, things seem to be unfair. True holiness is living the beatitudes as articulated by Christ.