Mercy: The Key to One’s Heart, is the word that echoes in the Catholic Church these days, thanks to the frequent use of it, both in words and actions by Pope Francis. We can rightly say that the theme of Mercy is the centre of his papacy.
At the inaugural mass of his papal ministry on the feast of St. Joseph, Pope Francis addressed the faithful in the homily with these words, “In the Gospels, Saint Joseph appears as a strong and courageous man, a working man, yet in his heart we see great tenderness, which is not the virtue of the weak, but rather a sign of strength of spirit and a capacity for concern, for compassion, for genuine openness to others, for love. We must not be afraid of goodness, of tenderness!” Pope Francis has made Mercy one of the main components of the “New Evangelization”. In his address to participants in the plenary of the pontifical council for promoting the New Evangelization, Pope Francis declared, “We need Christians who make God’s mercy and tenderness for every creature visible to the men of our day”. He expressed same ethos in his first apostolic exhortation, “the joy of the Gospel”, “The church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel (EG 114). It is interesting to notice the order of actions that Pope points out here. He starts with welcoming, loving, forgiving and encouraging to lead a good life.
This is where sometimes fervent Catholics struggle. We want to see everyone living the catholic way of life first, before embracing the cross of welcoming, unconditionally loving and unconditionally forgiving. The more we disengage from these actions of the cross, the world will find us hypocrites and self-righteous bullies. The world we live in now is desperately trying to cope with the immense amount of sufferings that are being experienced; the brutal terrorists attacks, the violently chaotic middle east, the plight of refugees, the heartbreaking life situations of children and women in war torn countries, the earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, floods and droughts etc.
Though an agnostic, philosopher Emmanuel Kant’s postulation of God should be noted here. He says, if humanity should have absolute dignity, then it’s only on one condition that God exists and that he is a God of mercy and grace. Those who are forced to profess the “absence of God”, or “the eclipse of God” or “the dark night of faith”, are people who are puzzled in trying to understand God in the midst of all the sufferings. This is where Pope Francis is leading the entire church to capture the merciful God who is revealed in Jesus, “the spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”
Jesus presents a God who is rich in Mercy (Eph 2:4), portrayed in his stories of the Prodigal Son, lost sheep, lost coin and ultimately the revelation of a Merciful God occurs when he dies on the cross forgiving everyone unconditionally. At the foot washing scene in the Gospel of John, we encounter Jesus who,filled with the Knowledge of God’s love for him, humbles himself to wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus is entering the hearts of the disciples through their feet. The entry to one’s heart is through his or her feet. Jesus welcomed the disciples, he loved them, and he forgave them and encouraged them to a good life. He did not argue with them or convince them with philosophical explanations, rather he fell to their feet and won their heart.
St. Paul rightly said, he didn’t manifest the wisdom of the world in his preaching, but only the logic of the cross. And the logic of the cross is this that God loved the world and he gave his only son that everyone should be saved.
In the Gospel of Luke ch. 7 we meet Jesus, who at a party allows a sinful woman to wash and anoint his feet. The host of the party questions Jesus that if he is a prophet he should have known who and what sort of person was touching his feet. For the Pharisee, it is her actions that defines her, but for Jesus “who she is” defines her. She is first and foremost a child of God and whatever she lost can be forgiven and restored. This is mercy. God washes our feet from all the stains that darken our dignity and restores us to the original dignity as his children. This is done in a meal context and we know in the catholic context the meal is the Eucharist. In other words, God shows his mercy by giving himself to us, pouring out his blood and sharing his body. The more we live a Eucharistic life, the better the world will witness a merciful God and humanity will encounter a God who suffers with them and will find hope of resurrection with him in that intimacy.
Pope Francis, in his bull of indiction of the extraordinary Jubilee of mercy, instructed that every cathedral in the world will have a “holy door of mercy”, representing reconciliation, forgiveness and acceptance.
He has also encouraged us to take up both corporal (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, ransom captives, and bury the dead) and spiritual (instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, admonish the sinners, gladly forgive injuries, bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead) works of mercy. Let us capture hearts through the washing of the feet. However, in order to do that we need to experience the mercy of God first for ourselves. St. Augustine exclaims, “praise be to Thee, glory to Thee, O fountain of mercies. I became more wretched and thou more close to me. Let him prise you not who does not realize your mercies, which my soul’s depths confess to you”. In fact, we must be silent about God if we do not know how to speak anew the message of God’s mercy to the people who are in so much physical and spiritual distress
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.
2 Cor 2:14.
Fr Bony Abraham MGL
(Chaplain, Jesus Youth Australia National Youth Team)