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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

Jesus, the face of mercy

Wed, 15 Apr 2015 12:03:00 +0000 Posted in

The Bull of Convocation for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus (April 11, 2015) opens a preparatory period of prayer and study, dialogue and action. It is a path, that of mercy, which the Church has been traveling since its beginning, more intensely since the middle of the last century; and which Francis now proposes as a catalyst for a new impulse.

To facilitate the reading of the Pope's text and its assimilation, it is worth studying it by distinguishing some parts (this distinction is ours, not the document's).

1. Mercy, characteristic of God and of his work. "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy" (n. 1). The text opens with this affirmation that serves both as an explanation of degree scroll and as a synthesis, not only of the document, but also of the Christian faith. St. Thomas considers that "it is proper to God to use mercy and especially in this he manifests his omnipotence" (S. Th. II-II, q30, a4). The liturgy has taken this up since ancient times. God, rich in mercy, has sent us his son to save us. "Jesus of Nazareth by his word, his gestures and his whole person reveals the mercy of God" (ibid.). We need to contemplate the mystery of divine mercy, because it is source, condition, revelation and action of God's love for us, which becomes for us law and way in our relationship with Him and others.

2. The Second Vatican Council, sign of Mercy. The Extraordinary Jubilee will begin on December 8, 50 years after the closing of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. Here, too, the first sentence already says the most important thing: "The Church feels the need to keep this event alive" (n. 4). The Council - as promoted by St. John XXIII and Blessed Paul VI - wanted to proclaim the Gospel in our time in a more comprehensible way, at framework of charity and God's mercy.

3. Divine mercy in the Old Testament. The Old Testament describes God as "patient and merciful", to present him with the tender mercies of a father and a mother. Psalm 136 continually repeats "his mercy endures forever". And Francis interprets it as "an attempt to break the circle of space and time to introduce everything into the eternal mystery of love. It is as if to say that not only in history, but for all eternity man will always be under the merciful gaze of the Father" (n. 7).

4. Mercy, the core of the Gospel. Psalm 136 is part of a Jewish hymn (the hallel), recited on important liturgical feasts. Jesus prayed it with him (cf. Mt 26:30) and made it his own after the Last Supper, precisely as an explanation of the institution of the Eucharist and a prelude to his passion and death, which led to the consummation of his submission for us. A submission manifested throughout his life: in his attitudes (particularly towards the sick and sinners, like Matthew) and in his teachings, especially in some parables (such as that of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and that of the father and the two sons, and that of the merciless servant who did not want to forgive his companion) and in the beatitudes.

From this point on, Francis considers mercy as the core of the Gospel message and as a criterion for knowing who are really children of God, as an ideal of life and as a sign of credibility of the Christian faith, because love is demonstrated in concrete life: "intentions, attitudes and behaviors that are verified in daily life" (n. 9).

5. Mercy in the mission statement of the Church. For all these reasons, "mercy is the main beam that supports the life of the Church" (n. 10). Following in the footsteps of St. John Paul II (cf. encyclical Dives in misericordia, 30-XI-1080), Francis proposes that proclaiming mercy and witnessing to it in the first person must be the Church's way today. Hence the meaning of the pilgrimage - symbol of the journey that is the life of each person - in the Jubilees. quotation the words of the Gospel that point to the interior pilgrimage: "Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned; forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it shall be given unto you: a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they put into the train of your garments. For you will be measured by the measure you measure" (Lk 6:37-38).

Among the concrete ways of exercising mercy, he highlights the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: "This will be a way of awakening our conscience, often lethargic in the face of the drama of poverty, and of entering even more deeply into the heart of the Gospel, where the poor are the privileged recipients of divine mercy" (n. 15). Moreover, in each of the needy we must see Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:31-45). Other concrete ways of living the Jubilee of Mercy will be the "24 hours for the Lord" initiative (adoration of the Eucharist and confession of sins: the Pope asks "that confessors be a true sign of the Father's mercy", n. 17), popular missions and indulgences. Francis invites all people to conversion, especially those who are farthest from God's grace, criminals and promoters or accomplices of corruption.

6. The connection between justice and mercy. The document goes on to explain the relationship between justice and mercy (which runs parallel to the relationship between truth and charity and is a visible manifestation of that relationship). They are not two contrasting moments," says Francis, "but a single moment that develops progressively until it reaches its apex in the fullness of love" (n. 20).

Justice, he observes, has often been interpreted in a narrow way, as mere compliance with the law. "To overcome the legalistic perspective, it would be necessary to remember that in the Sacred Scripture justice is conceived essentially as a trusting abandonment to the will of God" (Ibid.). Against the legalistic mentality of the Pharisees, "Jesus emphasizes the great gift of divine mercy that seeks out sinners to offer them forgiveness and salvation" (Ibid.) and calls for attention to the needs that touch the dignity of persons.

St. Paul, too, in the words of Francis, teaches that "the judgment of God is not the observance or non-observance of the law, but faith in Jesus Christ, who by his death and resurrection brings salvation together with the mercy that justifies. God's justice now becomes liberation for all who are oppressed by the slavery of sin and its consequences. God's justice is his forgiveness (cf. Ps 51:11-16)" (Ibid.). In short, "God does not reject justice. He encompasses it and surpasses it in a superior event where we experience the love that is at the basis of true justice (...) This justice of God is the mercy granted to all as grace by reason of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ, then, is God's judgment on all of us and on the world, because it offers us the certainty of love and new life" (n. 21).

He concludes by wishing that the Jubilee be an occasion for meeting with Judaism, Islam and other noble religious traditions. And, after evoking the figure of St. Faustina Kowalska, apostle of mercy, he entrusts himself to Mary, Mother of Mercy and Ark of the Covenant between God and mankind.  

As we said at the beginning, this document opens, before the Jubilee of Mercy, a preparatory period of prayer and study, dialogue and action, under the impulse of the Bishop of Rome. It should be a period of authentically spiritual and evangelizing growth for every Christian, and for the Church in her institutions and groupings.