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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

Announcing mercy

Fri, 20 Mar 2015 09:20:00 +0000 Published in Religion Confidential

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Francis has announced a Holy Year or an extraordinary jubilee on mercy. The dictionary points out that mercy is the virtue that inclines the mind to sympathize with the labors and miseries of others. The word itself almost says it: mercyto bear the miseries (of others) in one's heart. It is worth exploring the programmatic document of Pope Francis, the exhortation Evangelii gaudiumin search of his proposals on mercy.

1. God's mercy calls for the mercy of the Christian. "God never tires of forgiving; it is we who tire of turning to his mercy" (EG, n. 3) God - the text explains - is always ready to forgive, to carry us on his shoulders. His infinite and unwavering love gives us dignity and tenderness. His resurrection allows us to begin anew with joy. 

For this reason, the Church and every Christian in her live - must live - from "an inexhaustible desire to offer mercy, the fruit of having experienced the Father's infinite mercy and its diffusive power" (n. 24). Consequently, it is proposed to us to "give first place to, be involved in, accompany, bear fruit and celebrate" the message of the Gospel, in order to bring this good news to others. In this task the bishops have a primary role, with their "simple and merciful closeness" (n. 31).

2. The virtue of mercy. St. Thomas Aquinas points out, and Francis takes it up, that mercy is the greatest of all the virtues in external action: "In itself mercy is the greatest of the virtues, since it belongs to it to turn to others and, even more, to help them in their deficiencies. This is peculiar to the superior, and therefore it is considered proper to God to have mercy, in which his omnipotence shines forth in the greatest way" (n. 37). And he adds that we do not worship God with sacrifices and external gifts because He needs them; He wants us to offer them to Him for our devotion and for the good of our neighbor. "Therefore, mercy, which relieves the defects of others, is the sacrifice that pleases Him most, since it most closely causes the usefulness of the neighbor." (S. Th., II-II, q30, a4 and ad 1).

Mercy, situated at the heart of the Gospel message, orients the necessary reforms in the Church and also her preaching - one could say, all her pastoral and educational work - so as not to make life burdensome for the faithful, but rather to demand with moderation the precepts that the Church adds (cf. EG, n. 43).

3. Educating in and for mercy:The educator and the priest must patiently accompany the small steps of growth staff: "A small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than the outwardly correct life of those who go through their days without facing major difficulties. The consolation and encouragement of God's saving love, which works mysteriously in each person, beyond his or her faults and failings, must reach everyone" (n. 44).

In this way we can better understand that "the salvation that God offers us is the work of his mercy. There are no human actions, no matter how good they may be, that make us worthy of so great a gift. God, by pure grace, draws us to unite us to himself" (n. 112).

Evangelization consists precisely in facilitating the mercy of God to be manifested in the world starting from the advertisement of the Gospel: "To proclaim and bring the salvation of God in this world of ours, which is often lost, in need of answers that encourage, that give hope, that give new vigor on the way". Therefore, "the Church must be the place of gratuitous mercy, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live according to the good life of the Gospel" (n. 114).

All of this must begin in our own hearts. This is why Pope Francis has order implored us to implore conversion staff for each one of us and for the Church as a whole. Moreover, and to begin with, permanent conversion is the only way to maintain Christian identity in a changing and confusing world: "Christian identity, which is that baptismal embrace that the Father gave us as children, makes us long, like prodigal children - and Mary's favorite - for the other embrace, that of the merciful Father who awaits us in glory. To make our people feel as if they were in the midst of these two embraces is the hard but beautiful task of the one who preaches the Gospel" (n. 144). This is so because "Jesus Christ, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the infinite mercy of the Father" (n. 164).

4. Mercy and preferential love for the poor and needy. Responding to God's mercy towards us involves compassion and forgiveness (cf. n. 179). It also entails listening to the cry of the poor: "The Church, guided by the Gospel of mercy and by love for mankind, hears the cry for justice and wishes to respond to it with all her strength" (n. 188).

This is true, and this response of the Church and of Christians takes many forms. Most Christians (the lay faithful) exercise mercy when, together with their fellow citizens, they work to bring families forward and to make society a more human place every day, so that it can also be a divine path. At the same time, through the works of mercy, which can and should always be exercised in ordinary life, and which today are facilitated and encouraged by volunteer activities. There are also so many tasks of Education, health care, and other direct forms of human and social promotion, true tasks of mercy with the needs of our fellow citizens. The Church has always institutionally promoted charitable works. Many of them have been and continue to be promoted by Catholics, religious and lay people, all of whom, in very different ways, have to bring God to the poorest, without forgetting how much we can learn from them.

The important thing - Francis points out - is to remember that what we do with others always has a transcendent dimension "and responds to divine mercy towards us" (cf. Lk 6:36-38). There is an absolute priority of "going out of ourselves" towards our brothers and sisters, particularly those most in need (cf. EG n. 179).

This can be learned by listening to the Word of God, when it instructs us about divine mercy, or when it speaks to us of its necessity in order to obtain mercy ourselves (cf. Mt 5:7) and to escape God's judgment (cf. James 2:12-13).

Already the Old Testament gives a special salvific value to mercy (cf. Dt 4:24). And the internship of almsgiving "exercised a prophetic counter-cultural resistance to pagan hedonistic individualism" (EG, n. 193). The Scriptures "invite us with such forcefulness to fraternal love, to humble and generous service, to justice, to mercy for the poor" (n. 194).

Above all, we must keep in mind that Jesus identified himself with the poor and needy: "'I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,' and he taught that mercy towards them is the key to heaven (cf. Mt 25:35f)" (EG, n. 197).

In line with what St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI have already pointed out, Francis writes: "For the Church, the option for the poor is a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one. God grants them 'his first mercy' (John Paul II, Homily in St. Dominic, October 11, 1984). And the present Pope adds: "This divine preference has consequences for the life of faith of all Christians, who are called to have 'the same sentiments as Jesus Christ'(Phil 2:5)" (EG, n. 198).

As we pray in the litany of the rosary, mercy has a mother. "On the cross," Francis observes, "when Christ suffered in his flesh the dramatic meeting between the sin of the world and divine mercy, he could see at his feet the consoling presence of the Mother and the friend" (n. 285).

The Pope invokes her as the star of the new evangelization, which is a work of mercy: Star of the new evangelization, help us to shine in the witness of communion, of service, of ardent and generous faith, of justice and love for the poor, so that the joy of the Gospel may reach the ends of the earth and no periphery may be deprived of its light.