Godtalk: A Mercy-full Church


Three of the works of mercy are depicted: giving drink to the thirsty, visiting the prisoner and clothing the naked. (Matthew 25) From Jim Forest at flickr.com

The Church is alive, growing, developing throughout time.  In his Spiritual Exercises St Ignatius emphasises the importance of following ‘the mind of the Church’, echoing Jesus’ warning to be ‘alert to the sign of the times.’  In his various comments on the teaching of the Church, Pope Francis would seem to be presenting the mind of the Church today. 

In support of the New Evangelisation, Francis urges us not to be afraid of breaking with convention, doing things differently.  Effectively, it is our overall relationship with God, not our relationship with any law that is the criterion of our holiness or sinfulness. Francis disentangles this confusion of love and law in the Church ­ “Mercy bridges the gap.”

Pope Francis told the priests whom he was ordaining recently: “And here I want to pause to ask you, for the love of Jesus Christ, never tire of being merciful! Have that capacity for forgiveness that the Lord had:  he who came not to condemn but to forgive! Have mercy; great mercy!

And if you are worried about being too forgiving, think of that holy priest who stopped before the tabernacle and said: 'Lord, forgive me if I have forgiven too much. But you have set me such an example!'   I say to you, truly, it pains me when I meet people who no longer go to confession because they have been reproached and scolded. They felt as though doors of the Churches had been closed in their faces.”

Meanwhile, Francis’ favourite theologian, Cardinal Walter Kasper, is promoting his book on Mercy, the one that Francis recommended in his first Angelus Address.

In a recent interview in America Magazine, Kasper widened the application of Mercy from his former suggestion that it is the solution to the question of Holy Communion for the divorced and re-married, though not without first having a swipe at those who advocate 'spiritual communion' as the solution. “You can’t be in spiritual communion with God if you are in mortal sin.  So if the divorced and remarried can make a spiritual communion they can receive the Eucharist in sacramental Communion.

Now Kasper has turned his attention to birth-control. The Church is not against birth-control," he said. “Leave casuistry out of it - and use personal conscience and responsibility to decide 'how to do' birth-control.”

And those who feel they should get the Pope to stop him short should remember that when Francis praised Kasper's book, some old cardinal complained to him that he shouldn't have done so because the book is full of heresies. When Francis recounted this to Kasper he added: "Of course, it went in one ear and out the other."

Mercy bridges love and law, wipes out sin, and characterises the Church which we are charged to bring to others. But first we must recognise that Church for ourselves. Truly, we must "break with convention, and do things differently". 

Peter Knott SJ