On March 13, 2015, Pope Francis surprised the world by announcing a Jubilee of Mercy that would begin in December 2015. Merciful like the Father was the motto of this Holy Year which formally began on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015. The feast also marked the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, an event that invited the Church into “a new phase of her history” and shed light on the “need to talk about God to men and women of their time in a more accessible way.”
Mercy is a balm against the hatred, violence, fanaticism that has spread like poison among people. Mercy is a theme very dear to Pope Francis, as is expressed in the episcopal motto he chose years ago for his episcopal ministry: “miserando atque eligendo”, referring to the call of Matthew in the New Testament. Jesus sees the tax collector, and since he sees by having mercy and by choosing, he says to him, ‘follow me’. Mercy has become a cornerstone of Francis’ papacy, part of his vision of a less judgmental church that is open to all.
Pope Francis has said: “A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient” (Angelus, March 17, 2013). For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes that: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”
In the English edition of that Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the term mercy appears 32 times. For Pope Francis, mercy is the interpretative key to the Gospel of Jesus. Francis had his first profound experience of God’s mercy at age 17, when on his way to a high school dance, he went to confession and felt the call to the priesthood. Throughout his priestly ministry, he has sought to give concrete expression to God’s mercy by word and deed because he believes, as he wrote recently: “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.”
“A torrent of misery, swollen by sin, seems to contradict the fullness of time brought by Christ,” the Pope said at the beginning of this year. “And yet this swollen torrent is powerless before the ocean of mercy which floods our world. All of us are called to immerse ourselves in this ocean, to let ourselves be reborn, to overcome the indifference which blocks solidarity, and to leave behind the false neutrality which prevents sharing.”
Scripture presents God as infinite mercy, but also as perfect justice. How can the two be reconciled? They may appear to be contradictory, but this is not the case, as it is precisely God's mercy that leads us to achieve true justice. In the legal administration of justice, we see that those who consider themselves to have been victims of abuse consult a judge in court and ask that justice be done. It is a retributive justice, inflicting punishment on the guilty, according to the principle that each person receives what he deserves. … But this route does not lead to true justice, as in reality it does not conquer evil, it simply limits it. Instead, only by responding with good can evil truly be conquered.
The Bible, as Pope Francis has explained, proposes a different form of justice, in which the victim invites the guilty party to convert, helping him to understand the harm he has done and appealing to his conscience. "In this way, recognizing his blame, he can open up to the forgiveness that the injured party offers. … This is the way of resolving conflicts within families, in relations between spouses and between parents and children, in which the injured party loves the guilty and does not wish to lose the bond between them. It is certainly a difficult path: it demands that the victim be disposed to forgive and wishes for the salvation and the good of the perpetrator of the damage. But only in this way can justice triumph, as if the guilty party acknowledges the harm he has done and ceases to do so, the evil no longer exists and the unjust becomes just, as he has been forgiven and helped to find the way of good".
"God treats us sinners, in the same way. He continually offers us His forgiveness, He helps us to welcome Him and to be aware of our evil so as to free ourselves of it. God does not seek our condemnation, only our salvation. God does not wish to condemn anyone! … The Lord of Mercy wishes to save everyone. … The problem is letting Him enter into our heart. All the words of the prophets are an impassioned and love-filled plea for our conversion".
God's heart is "the heart of a Father Who loves all His children and wants them to live in goodness and justice, and therefore to live in fullness and happiness. A Father's heart that goes beyond our meagre concept of justice so as to open up to us the immense horizons of His mercy. It is precisely a Father's heart that we encounter when we go to the confessional", Francis emphasized. "Perhaps it will tell us something to better understand our evil, but at the confessional we all go in search of a father who will help us change our life; a father who gives us the strength to go on; a father who forgives us in God's name.
Just before Lent 2015, Pope Francis’ personal book, “The Name of God is Mercy” was simultaneously released throughout the world. The main theme of the book is mercy, and the Pope’s reasons for proclaiming a Holy Year of Mercy. The centrality of mercy, Francis says, is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all people are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium” – not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness. Francis insists repeatedly throughout the book that mercy is the very essence of God. Here’s a typical way Pope Francis expresses the point:
The Pope describes the example of several merciful priests he’s known across the years. Two in particular seem to have left a deep impression, including one he met as a teenager, the Rev. Carlos Duarte Ibarra, who would end up dying the next year.
“I still remember how when I got home, after his funeral and burial, I felt as though I had been abandoned. I cried a lot that night, really a lot, and hid in my room. Why? Because I had lost a person who helped me feel the mercy of God.”
He also describes a Capuchin priest who came to him in Buenos Aires to say he worried that he was too merciful when hearing confessions. The future pope asked the Capuchin if he had prayed about it. This is what he says the priest told him: “I go to our chapel and stand in front of the tabernacle and say to Jesus: ‘Lord, forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But you’re the one who gave me the bad example!’”
Francis writes: “I will never forget that. When a priest experiences giving mercy to himself like that, he can give it to others.”
Pope Francis teaches us in that book of very simple yet profound words:
“The Church condemns sin because it has to relay the truth: ‘this is a sin’. But at the same time, it embraces the sinner who recognizes himself as such, it welcomes him, it speaks to him of the infinite mercy of God. Jesus forgave even those who crucified and scorned him.”“To follow the way of the Lord, the Church is called upon to dispense its mercy over all those who recognize themselves as sinners, who assume responsibility for the evil they have committed, and who feel in need of forgiveness. The Church does not exist to condemn people, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy.”“I often say that in order for this to happen, it is necessary to go out: to go out from the churches and the parishes, to go outside and look for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope. I like to use the image of a field hospital to describe this “Church that goes forth”. It exists where there is combat. It is not a solid structure with all the equipment where people go to receive treatment for both small and large infirmities. It is a mobile structure that offers first aid and immediate care, so that its soldiers do not die.”Mercy is the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. …Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
The centrality of mercy, Francis says, is “Jesus’ most important message.” Mercy is essential because all men are sinners, in need of God’s forgiveness and grace, and it’s especially necessary today, at a time when “humanity is wounded,” suffering from “the many slaveries of the third millennium” — not just war and poverty and social exclusion, but also fatalism, hardheartedness and self-righteousness.
From the Message of Pope Francis on the occasion of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, on the theme “We show mercy to our common home.”–September 1, 2016
A new work of mercy
“Nothing unites us to God more than an act of mercy, for it is by mercy that the Lord forgives our sins and gives us the grace to practise acts of mercy in his name.”8 To paraphrase Saint James, “we can say that mercy without works is dead … In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing. In response to them, we need to be creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy.”
The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. “We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative: hospitals for the sick, soup kitchens for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, schools for those to be educated, the confessional and spiritual direction for those needing counsel and forgiveness… But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.”
Obviously “human life itself and everything it embraces” includes care for our common home. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.
As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (Laudato Si, 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (ibid., 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (ibid., 230-31).
Video: Mercy in Continuity
A Salt and Light short documentary on the theme of mercy running through the Pontificates of Popes John Paul II and Francis. Produced for the World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland, in 2016, this film presents a comprehensive look at the ministries of the Popes since the Second Vatican Council and reveals a sincere effort to make known God's mercy to the world, allowing it to penetrate the attitudes and actions of church leaders. As John Paul II wrote in 1980, "The genuine face of mercy has to be ever revealed anew."
For official link to video click HERE.
All photo's curtesy of Vatican Media.
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