Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 3)

Today we continue our dive into St. John Paul II’s Catechesi Tradendae (On Catechesis in Our Time). The fourth section of this post-synodel apostolic exhortation is titled “The Whole of the Good News Drawn from its Source”. This section opens with a very important point about catechesis: “Since catechesis is a moment or aspect of evangelization, its content cannot be anything else but the content of evangelization as a whole.” (26)

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There are many catechists who read this blog. Some of our readers have years of experience, others are fresh-faced and new. But I think it is fair to say that every person reading this realizes that the heart of catechesis is evangelization. We do not catechize simply so that Catholics will memorize the Ten Commandments, or even the Precepts of the Church, or learn some “Bible stories,” or memorize certain formulas so they can pass a test. No. Rather, catechesis is, at its heart, meant to bring people to an appreciation of the Good News, a relationship with Jesus Christ and the whole Blessed Trinity, and to desire to spread the Good News themselves, as Jesus commanded us. The deposit of faith is a living thing.

“Catechesis will always raw its content from the living source of the Word of God transmitted in Tradition and the Scriptures, for ‘sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church,’ as was recalled by the Second Vatican Council, which desired that ‘the ministry of the word — pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction… – (should be) healthily nourished and (should) thrive in holiness through the word of Scripture.'” (27)

That being said, we must also be sure not to demean the importance and usefulness of credal formulas in catechesis and evangelization. At many points throughout the Church’s history, creeds have been developed to articulate the faith in a succinct way, typically in response to a particular threat to the integrity of the faith. St. John Paul II describes creeds as “an exceptionally important expression of the living heritage placed in the custody of the pastors,” and says that the creeds “at crucial moments have summed up the Church’s faith in felicitous syntheses.” (28)

The pope specifically refers to the Credo of the People of God composed by Pope St. Paul VI and proclaimed at the close of the 19th centenary of the martyrdom of Peter and Paul. He calls this a “sure point of reference for the content of catechesis,” in that it contains “the essential elements of the Catholic Faith, especially those that presented greater difficulty or risked being ignored.” (28)

Pope John Paul II during an audience in St. Peter's Square in 1980

For Pope St. John Paul II, it is obvious just how important it is to communicate the faith as much as possible; in particular, young people who are just reaching the age of reason. “Anyone can see, for instance, how important it is to make the child, the adolescent, the person advancing in faith understand what can be known about God.” (29) Passing on the deposit of faith, the fidei depositum, is the chief responsibility of the catechist, and it is important to impart the faith to the young so that the faith matures along with them and they are able to grow in deeper understanding of the faith.

In this document, the Holy Father also addresses the ever-important ecumenical question. Is there an ecumenical dimension of Catechesis? “Catechesis cannot remain aloof from this ecumenical dimension, since all the faithful are called to share, according to their capacity and place in the Church, in the movement towards unity.” (32) The pope calls for catechesis to be done with sincere respect for ecclesial communities not in communion with the Catholic Church. These communities must be presented correctly and fairly, and the presentation must foster a true desire for unity among Christians, in union with the will of Jesus “that they may be one” (John 17:21).

Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time (Part 2)

In our last post, we looked at the first section of Pope St. John Paul II’s post-synodal apostolic exhortation Catechesi Tradendae, On Catechesis in Our Time. Today we are continuing our closer look at this important exhortation from the Holy Father.

The third section of the exhortation is entitled “Catechesis in the Church’s Pastoral and Missionary Activity,” and focuses a great deal on catechesis within the context of evangelization. As the readers of this blog will likely recall, St. John Paul II was a great proponent of the Church going into the world in the context of a New Evangelization — and he saw catechesis as a critical part of this. “Catechesis cannot be dissociated from the Church’s pastoral and missionary activity as a whole,” he wrote (18).

There follows a marvelous basic definition of catechesis: “All in all, it can be taken here that catechesis is an education of children, young people and adults in the faith, which includes especially the teaching of Christian doctrine imparted, generally speaking, in an organic and systematic way, with a view to initiating the hearers into the fullness of Christian life. Accordingly, while not being formally identified with them, catechesis is built on a certain number of elements of the Church’s pastoral mission that have a catechetical aspect, that prepare for catechesis, or that spring from it. These elements are: the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching through the kerygma to arouse faith, apologetics or examination of the reasons for belief, experience of Christian living, celebration of the sacraments, integration into the ecclesial community, and apostolic and missionary witness” (18)

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Catechesis is not purely an end in itself. It is not an intellectual exercise, a memorization challenge. “The specific aim of catechesis is to develop, with God’s help, an as yet initial faith, and to advance in fullness and to nourish day by day the Christian life of the faithful, young and old.” (20) Nourishing the Christian life, growing in relationship with Jesus Christ — this is the aim of catechesis. We are all called to know and love God, and to serve him, and you truly come to love someone the more you get to know Him.

The Holy Father goes on to make the point that catechesis, while not being a purely intellectual endeavor, also is not to be solely based on “life experience.” He says that no opposition is “to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional doctrinal and systematic catechesis.” (22) He continues, “Authentic catechesis is always an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given of Himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, a revelation stored in the depths of the Church’s memory and in Sacred Scripture, and constantly communicated from one generation to the next by a living, active traditio.” (22)

In the Catholic Church, all ecclesial life centers around the Sacraments. This absolutely goes for catechesis, and this does not escape the notice of the pope writing in Catechesi Tradendae: “Catechesis is intrinsically linked with the whole of liturgical and sacramental activity, for it is in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist, that Christ Jesus works in fullness for the transformation of human beings.” (23) Through catechesis we nourish the Christian life, the life which subsists in the Sacraments.

We will continue our discussion of this important exhortation in the next post, with the fourth section.

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Catechesi Tradendae: On Catechesis in Our Time

Pope St. John Paul II was one of the greatest evangelizers and catechizers ever to sit on the Chair of Peter. In November 1977, during the pontificate of Bl. Paul VI, the Fourth General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops was held, with the theme “Catechesis in Our Time,” giving special focus to the catechesis of children and young people.

Following the Synod, the Holy Father began work on the post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Based on the documents and conversations to emerge from the Synod, the work was begun by Paul VI, continued during the exceedingly brief pontificate of John Paul I, and then taken up and completed by John Paul II. The document — entitled Catechesi Tradendae — was ultimately published on October 16, 1979, the one-year anniversary of John Paul II’s election to the papacy.

The text of this document is full of beautiful insights into the task of catechesis, one of the most important responsibilities of the Church. “The Church has always considered catechesis one of her primary roles, for, before Christ ascended to His Father after His resurrection, He gave the apostles a final command — to make disciples of all nations and to teach them to observe all that He commanded.” (CT 1)

The Church herself is particularly responsible for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, and has been given special gifts by Jesus to impart the Truth: “He also entrusted them [the apostles] with the mission and power to explain with authority what He had taught them, His words and actions, His signs and commandments. And He gave them the Spirit to fulfill this mission.” (CT 1) The Synod that preceded this apostolic exhortation expressed the task of catechesis in ways that would be helpful for all catechists to hear and prayerfully consider.

Authentic catechesis, according to the Synod fathers and stressed in the document, is fundamentally Christocentric. This term “Christocentric” “is intended to stress that at the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, ‘the only Son from the Father…full of grace and truth,’ who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.” (CT 5) It is also Christocentric in that what is being transmitted is not the teaching of the individual catechist; rather, it is the teaching of Jesus Christ, “the Truth that He communicates or, to put it more precisely, the Truth that He is.” (CT 6) “Every catechist should be able to apply to himself the mysterious words of Jesus: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me.'” (CT 6, cf. John 7:16)

What is, according to this great evangelizer, this role model for catechists everywhere, the primary goal of catechesis? “[T]he definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” (CT 5)

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Catechesis can not be conducted in a vacuum, in a purely intellectual pursuit of some sort of religious formulae. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ is necessary for catechesis. “Only in deep communion with Him will catechists find light and strength for an authentic, desirable renewal of catechesis.” (CT 9)

This is important because catechesis is more than just one more thing the Church does, or one more thing a parish needs space for. “[I]t is clear that the Church has always looked on catechesis as a sacred duty and an inalienable right. On the one hand, it is certainly a duty springing from a command given by the Lord and resting above all on those who in the new covenant receive the call to the ministry of being pastors. On the other hand, one can likewise speak of a right: from the theological point of view every baptized person, precisely the reason of being baptized, has the right to receive from the Church instruction and education enabling him or her to enter on a truly Christian life.” (CT 14)

Furthermore, “The more the Church, whether on the local or the universal level, gives catechesis priority over other works and undertakings the results of which would be more spectacular, the more she finds in catechesis a strengthening of her internal life as a community of believers and of her external activity as a missionary Church.” (CT 15) At the same time, there is a constant need for renewal in catechesis. It “needs to be continually renewed by a certain broadening of its concept, by the revision of its methods, by the search for suitable language, and by the utilization of new means of transmitting the message.” (CT 17)

Catechesi Tradendae does also address deficiencies in catechesis, which were discussed by the Synod fathers. There are “limitations or even ‘deficiencies’ in what has been achieved to date. These limitations are particularly serious when they endanger integrity of content.” (CT 17) Routine and improvisation are equally dangerous, the pope stresses. “Routine leads to stagnation, lethargy and eventual paralysis. Improvisation begets confusion on the part of those being given catechesis and, when these are children, on the part of their parents; it also begets all kinds of deviations, and the fracturing and eventually the complete destruction of unity.” (CT 17)

The document has much more of value to offer, and presents many more challenges to catechists. This is a document of inestimable value, and every catechist should read it prayerfully. During the summer, when most parish catechetical programs are on hiatus — or at least significantly lower levels of activity — please read the document, and share it with everyone you think it may speak to.

I will continue looking at the document in greater detail as the summer continues.

Classic literature through a Catholic lens

Joseph Pearce is an astoundingly prolific writer. A native of England, with a fascinating and moving conversion story of his own, he is a senior contributor at The Imaginative Conservative and senior editor at the Augustine Institute. His books include biographical works on C.S. Lewis, Shakespeare, Tolkien, Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn, and Belloc. He is a senior fellow at the Cardinal Newman Society and editor of its journal.

Pearce also serves as series editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions. Recently, he penned a piece for the journal of the Cardinal Newman Society about this series and his involvement, entitled “Critical Editions You Can Trust.” With the permission of the author, we are happy to share the article here with our readers.

 

Many years ago, when I was teaching a course on Romanticism at Ave Maria University in Florida, I was horrified to see the poisonous criticism that had seeped into the critical editions of Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights that I had assigned as set texts to my students. These editions were full of feminist criticism, so-called queer theory and anti-Christian propaganda. Why, I thought, should I put such poison into the hands and therefore the minds of my students? Why, furthermore, should I patronize such trash by assigning the texts in the first place? I felt responsible for increasing the sales of these iconoclastic editions, and felt responsible also for any uncleanness that might enter into the minds and hearts of my students through their reading of them.

In response to this far from edifying situation, I suggested to Father Fessio of Ignatius Press that he should give me the go-ahead to become series editor of new editions of the classics. And so it was that the Ignatius Critical Editions were launched to provide a tradition-oriented alternative to the Norton Critical Editions and other similar series, which have succumbed to the radical relativism of postmodernism and its offshoots, such as the aforementioned feminist criticism and queer theory. These mainstream editions warp the original meaning of the great works through what can best be described as literary abuse. The Ignatius Critical Editions, by way of contrast, would respect the integrity of the works and the intentions of the authors, most of whom were devout Christians whose works reflect their living faith.

A call for papers was sent out to hundreds of tradition-oriented academics across the United States, and indeed to Europe also, and many excellent essays were received. In 2008 the first three titles were published: FrankensteinWuthering Heights and King Lear. Over the following years many more titles followed. There are currently 27 titles in the series, ranging chronologically from Augustine’s Confessions and Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy from the earliest years of Christendom to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, published at the end of the nineteenth century. Included among these 27 titles are seven of Shakespeare’s plays, providing a much-needed corrective to the egregious Shakespeare abuse which is currently rampant in the academy.

My personal favorite of all the editions published thus far is the edition of The Merchant of Venice, published in 2009. Apart from my own introduction to the play and, of course, the full text of the play itself, newly annotated, the edition includes seven critical essays on various aspects of the play by some of the finest contemporary tradition-oriented scholars. Film critic James Bemis wrote about film adaptations of the play; Raimund Borgmeier, from the University of Giessen in Germany, wrote about the role of the family in the drama; British scholar Michael Brennan, from the University of Leeds, compared the functions in the plot of Venice and Belmont; Anthony Esolen, who will be no stranger to readers of the Journal, wrote of “the hazard of love”; James Hartley, a professor of economics at Mount Holyoke College, wrote about the problem of usury in the play, indicating Shakespeare’s evident sympathy with the Catholic Church’s position on the subject; Daniel Lowenstein, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote on law and mercy in the trial scene. Other scholars wrote of ways of reading the play and of the role of friendship. How many different facets of this most difficult and misunderstood of plays were thus revealed within the pages of one solitary edition!

Most of the titles in the series come with Study Guides which contain study questions and a selection of essay prompts. They also include a detachable answer key, so that educators can have guidance with respect to the grading of the questions and the essays, which would be especially useful for homeschooling parents.

The most satisfying thing about my involvement with the Ignatius Critical Editions is the knowledge that no teacher at a Catholic school or college, or no homeschooling parent, need ever again find themselves in the position of putting into the hands of their students those editions of the classics which have been poisoned by the toxic mainstream. There is now a healthy choice and a tradition-oriented alternative.

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Humanae Vitae at 50, and teaching sexual morality

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It can be quite a profound challenge to figure out the right way to teach sexual morality to teens today. There is even a debate as to the best age to teach it: while we want to avoid teaching it too early, and opening that can of worms before it is appropriate to do so, we also want to ensure that we (as parents and educators) are the ones who give them the right message and the correct information, rather than the dangerous misinformation they may get from peers or pop culture.

This year, the Church commemorates the 50th anniversary of the release of Humanae Vitae, Pope Bl. Paul VI’s landmark encyclical on human life and sexuality. By far, most coverage of this encyclical focuses on the fact that, in this document, Bl. Paul VI affirmed the Church’s ancient and unbroken opposition to artificial methods of birth control — famously going against the final decision and recommendation of a committee he had set up to look into the issue. But the encyclical contains so much more than that — beautiful elucidations of Catholic teaching on human sexuality, love, living life in the vocation of marriage, and much more. Humanae Vitae has been a great gift to the Church.

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For the 25th anniversary of the encyclical’s release, 25 years ago, Ignatius Press produced a volume edited by Janet E. Smith called Why Humanae Vitae Was Right, featuring a number of essays on the encyclical by some of the finest minds in moral theology. This year, for the 50th anniversary, Dr. Smith has edited a new compendium of essays, entitled Why Humanae Vitae is Still Right, which Ignatius Press will be releasing this summer. Both of these volumes are invaluable resources for unpacking and understanding the encyclical itself, as well as the import it has down to today.

Perhaps it is due to our fallen nature that the debate about sexual morality rages ever on, and western society continues to fight the natural, common-sensical, ancient understanding of the proper use of the sexual faculty. It seems as though things only get worse with each passing year. It is more important than ever to be able to impart the truth to our young people, so that they go out into the world properly equipped, and fortified by grace through the sacraments to fight temptation and sin.

Ignatius Press offers a Catechesis on Christian Sexual Morality for teens called Love & Life, which utilizes the great patrimony of the Church’s Tradition, and in particular the writings of Paul VI and John Paul II, to guide the instruction. Offering a student guide, a teacher’s guide, and a parent guide, Love & Life is an orthodox guide to sexual morality that does a great job of appropriately approaching the topic. (If you have questions, or would like a free review copy, please contact me at paul@ignatius.com, or my colleague Julie Johnson at julie@ignatius.com.)

Another great resource for teens is the YDisciple video series components on chastity: “True Beauty: Chastity for Girls,” and “True Strength: Chastity for Guys.” Each of these is in four sessions, each session only a few minutes long. These videos are short and engaging, packing terrific information about the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. The YDisciple videos can be ordered from the Augustine Institute, and they are available on Formed.org.

Of course, there are also the crucial reflections of Pope St. John Paul II, collectively known as the Theology of the Body. Reflections given at his general audiences over the course of several years, this catechesis on human sexuality and love is one of the greatest treasures the Church has given us, and is the fruit of a lifetime of reflection from this man, a great philosopher with incredible insights into God’s desires for human sexuality. There are many great resources on the Theology of the Body, but perhaps the best place to start would be the texts of the reflections themselves.

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It was recently announced that Paul VI will be canonized sometime in 2018, although the date has yet to be released. It will likely coincide either with the anniversary of the encyclical’s release, or possibly with the Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. Let us pray for the intercession of Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and St. Maria Goretti, that we are able to adequately impart to young people the beauty and truth of the true ends of human sexuality.

The Call: Helping young people to discern their vocation

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The Call of St. Matthew, by Caravaggio

Vocation: too often this is a word that is misunderstood, particularly in the Catholic context, and particularly among young people — in other words, those who are at the most critical stage of vocational discernment.

This past Sunday was the World Day of Prayer for Vocations. From many a pulpit throughout the world, congregations heard their pastors preach on the importance of vocational discernment, and of answering God’s call to whatever vocation he is calling you to.

As educators — be we parents, teachers, parish catechists, pastors, or anything else — it is important that we help young people to discern the path to which God is calling them. First and foremost, in many cases, we must instruct them on the concept of discernment itself.

In our age, the idea of discernment is somewhat foreign. Society encourages us to do what we want, what feels right in the moment, with little or no consideration of long term effects or consequences. In the context of vocations, this attitude is reflected in the way that marriage is so often treated. No longer considered a lifelong commitment, marriage is a temporary state for as long as the couple pleases: no longer is there any weight given to the vows, no true commitment.

This is symptomatic of the larger issue at hand, and a sign of what is sorely needed: proper catechesis on discernment and vocation!

For one thing, it is important to emphasize that discernment is not a passive process, but an active one.

Let’s take a brief look at a classic biblical example of active discernment, from the First Book of Kings. In this passage, Elijah comes to a cave on Mount Horeb, as he flees for his life. God tells him to “‘Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.’ And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.” (1 Kings 19:11-12) Elijah sought the Lord to see what he should do. And God was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, not in the powerful, booming signs. Rather, he was in the still small voice at the back of the cave. If Elijah was not listening, he would not have heard.

We should also make note here of an interesting study that was recently released, detailing the influence of homeschooling on vocational discernment in the United States. According to the study done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University, young men who were homeschooled are four times more likely to enter the seminary than those who attend Catholic schools. Nearly one-in-ten US seminarians were homeschooled, which is drastic considering how many fewer homeschoolers there are than Catholic school students. At this time there are around 100,000 homeschooled Catholics in the United States, compared to two million students in Catholic schools.

This speaks to the importance of the home being the first place where vocational discernment happens, and the profound effect that families can have.

As readers of this blog know (but it never hurts to remember), when we speak of vocations, we do not mean only the priesthood and religious life. ALL of us have a vocation, to one state of life or another. The priesthood and religious life are only two possibilities, but many are called instead to marriage, and some to devoted single life.

For those readers who teach Confirmation classes, it might be worth considering incorporating a vocational discernment element into the Confirmation course. This is a perfect point in a young person’s life to seriously begin a discernment process, and there is no better time than when they are sealed with the Holy Spirit and infused with grace!

Catechesis is about instruction in the faith, for the salvation of souls. It is important, as part of our catechesis, to help young people be open to hearing God speaking to them. When God calls, we should always be listening, and answer without hesitation.

Gaudete et Exsultate — Pope Francis’ new call to holiness

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As many of you may know, yesterday saw the release of a new apostolic exhortation from the Holy Father, Pope Francis, called Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad!).

The document is subtitled “On the call to holiness in today’s world,” and that is certainly the crux of the matter. The Church teaches a universal call to holiness, and this is expounded upon in the Holy Father’s exhortation.

Many of the commentaries which have been published in the last couple of days give focus to a couple of points that are more “newsworthy” or controversial. For example, in light of the pope’s recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari wherein he purportedly denied the existence of hell (he did not, in fact, do any such thing), the document explicitly affirms the existence of hell and of the devil as not merely symbolic images, but realities we must face. It certainly makes sense that a document on the pursuit of holiness would address the diabolic forces that strive to keep us from being holy!

Jesus “wants us to be saints and not to settle for a bland and mediocre existence,” the pope writes. He continues that the document is not meant to be a treatise on holiness, containing definitions and the like, but rather his goal is to “repropose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges, and opportunities.”

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Here is the text of the document: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20180319_gaudete-et-exsultate.html

And here are several commentaries on the document:

A collection of “key quotes” compiled by the UK’s Catholic Herald:   http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2018/04/09/gaudete-et-exsultate-key-quotes/

Christopher Altieri on what Gaudete et Exsultate means for the Church:   http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2018/04/09/what-does-gaudete-et-exsultate-mean-for-the-church/

JD Flynn, Editor-in-Chief of Catholic News Agency, on “Reading Pope Francis in love”: https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/commentary-reading-pope-francis-in-love-67644

Catholic World Report‘s Carl Olson’s take on the document:  http://www.catholicworldreport.com/2018/04/09/pope-francis-takes-aim-in-gaudete-et-exsultate-and-misses/

A Zenit report on Cardinal Daniel DiNardo’s assessment of the document:   https://zenit.org/articles/us-bishops-president-lauds-gaudete-et-exsultate/ (Cardinal DiNardo is Archbishop of Galveston-Houston, and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops)

Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Registerhttp://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-francis-issues-lengthy-apostolic-letter-on-universal-call-to-holiness

And lastly, from the great Italian vaticanista, Sandro Magister:   http://magister.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2018/04/09/little-joy-and-great-invective-francis-explained-by-fr-spadaro/?refresh_ce

These commentaries bring out a lot of the more salient points of the apostolic exhortation, but as in all things, the best way to familiarize yourself with a document is to sit down and read it. It will be well worth your time!

Gaudete et Exsultate is a reminder, in the truest sense of an exhortation, that we are all called to holiness.