We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: 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: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
-Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, Papal Bull on Jubilee of Mercy, April 11
Have you ever felt God’s mercy? I mean really felt it the way Pope Francis describes it in Misericordiae Vultus (Face of Mercy), the papal bull declaring the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on December 8 this year (available at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html).
Have you felt the “joy, serenity and peace” that God’s mercy brings? Encountered in it both the Supreme Being and the mystery of His Most Holy Trinity? Opened your heart to “a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness”?
If you haven’t, welcome to the club. Outside of terminal patients, death-row convicts, war refugees, bankrupt debtors, and other desperates getting last-minute reprieves, most of us may feel not especially touched by Divine Mercy.
But in fact, we are, all of us. Not just every human being, but every creature that was, is and will be. Really.
Imagine if God never loved us, never showed us the Divine Mercy that took pity on our utter nothingness and breathed existence and life into us.
The same Divine Mercy forgives and fills in humankind’s failings, while firing and fulfilling our constant striving for the fullness of truth, justice, beauty, and love.
In sum, for Christians, Divine Mercy is in essence the Creator’s grace and power uplifting the inevitable imperfections of all creation, not just human sin, but all shortcomings of the world, which are the unavoidable price of being made and therefore distinct from the Maker and not perfect like Him.
The Father’s boundless forgiveness
Said the Holy Father in his letter: “When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. 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.”
That Divine Mercy is boundless cannot be more vividly and unequivocally demonstrated by the Crucified Son of God in calling on His Father to “forgive them [His executioners] for they know not what they do.”
If heaven can be merciful to those who betrayed, arrested, scourged, crowned with thorns, condemned and crucified the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, what transgression is there that cannot be denied absolution?
Of course, like Divine Love, Divine Mercy is never forced on anyone. The creature must want to be forgiven, filled in, made full and flawless. We must embrace and seek the fullness of love, truth, justice, beauty, order, and goodness that is God, Who will then open the floodgates of His forgiving and perfecting grace.
“In the parables devoted to mercy,” Francis points out, “Jesus reveals the nature of God as that of a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy. We know these parables well, three in particular: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (cf. Lk 15:1-32). In these parables, God is always presented as full of joy, especially when he pardons.”
And our Father is happy not only because He has saved a wayward soul, but also because a creature has chosen to embrace His perfection after once rejecting or deviating from it.
And it isn’t just mortal sin that God heals, but all failings, from the material inadequacies of five loaves and two fish for 5,000 hungry men, to the ills of body and society, healing disease and disability, and prompting the wealthy to share their bounty with the destitute. Indeed, even death is overcome.
Thus, of Jesus the Pope declares: “The signs he works, especially in the face of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.”
The Church proclaims God’s mercy
The Bull of induction, as the papal document is called, declares a special Jubilee Year of Mercy in which indulgences are made available to the faithful — the biggest ecclesiastical undertaking by Francis so far in advancing the paramount vision of his papacy, which led renowned Vatican writer John Allen to call him the Pope of Mercy.
The holy doors of leading cathedrals in Rome, including the Mother of All Churches, the Arch-Basilica of Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist at the Lateran, shall be flung open for pilgrims to pass through and gain God’s forgiveness and grace.
The same opening of doors of mercy shall be done in churches across the globe, where the faithful can journey and seek remission of sins and punishment.
Plus: in the 2016 Lenten season, Pope Francis will send out Missionaries of Mercy — “priests to whom I will grant the authority to pardon even those sins reserved to the Holy See … They will be, above all, living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”
The Holy Father declares: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. … The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person. … Merciful like the Father, therefore, is the ‘motto’ of this Holy Year.”
And that is what being a Christian is all about. Amen.