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September 2015 Article for RI Catholic

Patricia McCarthy, CND

“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

With these words Pope Francis begins his announcement of the Year of Mercy. A very small percentage of Catholics ever read the letters or announcements or encyclicals of a Pope. Most learn the message through other ways. In the case of Pope Francis, the words of mercy have been front and center since he became Pope three years ago.

After a March election, Pope Francis spent his first Holy Thursday washing the feet of boys and girls in a detention center in Rome. That photo went viral. Gone was the staged ritual of ceremonial washing of the feet of 12 important men at St. Peter’s. These young people wore jeans and sandals. They were from all faiths. They were looked upon by most as being of no value to society. Pope Francis washed and kissed their feet; and he looked happy to be with them.

Since that significant early moment in the papacy of our Pope Francis, numerous other occasions have revealed the mission of mercy of the vicar of Christ. The homeless are welcomed into his home for breakfast. They have been given bathrooms and showers at the Vatican. Pope Francis has stated that he will not judge anyone because of their sexual orientation. He is working to restore full membership to divorced and remarried Catholics. Women who have had abortions are not being excommunicated. “Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.”

Saint John XXIII opened the Second Vatican Council with a promise of mercy. “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up the arms of severity.. the Catholic Church wants to show herself a loving mother to all: patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.” On December 8, 1965, Pope Paul VI closed the Council pointing out that “charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council… the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the Council.”

Pope Francis has chosen the same date fifty years later to open the door of the Church to a year of mercy. He has traveled to the shores where immigrants are arriving in Italy, a country that has already welcomed hundreds of thousands of refugees in the past few years. He is living the Good Samaritan and inspiring us to do the same.

If we stop at merely acknowledging the Pope as a man of mercy, we are not getting the point of his message of mercy. This is not about Pope Francis and how he lives and acts. This is about every Christian and the universal desire for mercy, “the wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.” Mercy is God’s way and “his mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 136) “Before his passion Jesus prayed this psalm. Knowing that Jesus himself prayed this psalm, makes it more important for us as Christians.”

Jesus lived and died being the living mercy of his Father. This year of mercy comes at a time in history when the refugees of war are fleeing their countries in unprecedented numbers. Some countries have been overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. In Jordan and Lebanon almost one in four residents are refugees. Other countries are accepting limited numbers. But are these refugees not children of God? As we are responsible for some of the chaos of the Mideast due to our war policy of the past twenty five years, are we not also responsible for the victims of war? Is the year of mercy the time when the Church of Jesus, the man of mercy, the one who told us to love friend and enemy alike, might finally take the stand of condemning all war and violence.

“In this Jubilee year, let us allow God to surprise us. He never tires of opening the doors of his heart and of repeating that he loves us and wants to share his love with us.”

All quotes from Misericordiae Vultus

Article first publish in the Rhode Island Catholic


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