A Time for Mercy (Ash Wednesday)

In response to the question: Holy Father, can you tell us how the desire to proclaim a Holy Year of Mercy was born? Where did the inspiration come from? (pg. 5)

Yes, I believe that this is a time for mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she makes them feel loved. And so, as I said, and I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, an opportune time. 

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Pope Benedict XVI also spoke of this in his teachings: “Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love. The love of mercy also illuminates the face of the Church, and is manifested through the Sacraments, in particular that of the Reconciliation, as well as in works of charity, both of community and individuals. Everything that the church says and does shows that God has mercy for men.” (pgs. 6, 7)

It takes little imagination to recognize that for many in the US, the church is not synonymous with mercy. Even less is the God in whose name followers of Jesus act often characterized as one of mercy. That the church sees fit to call for a time in which its maternal side, the side that nurtures and heals, that loves and restores (although these are not by any means exclusively feminine traits!) is perhaps an indication of how far removed from our everyday life and language and practice this posture has become. 

But I think that Pope Francis has brought us to an important place in today's reflection by juxtaposing the call for the church to be merciful and the identification of the very face of God revealed most clearly in Jesus as one of mercy. Perhaps it is here that we find the "gap", the dissonance that has brought us appropriately to the time of Lent. It gave me great pause to recognize that while I wholeheartedly affirmed what Francis said...

"Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love." (Pope Francis) 

I must confess that I was in a very real sense surprised by this assertion. Not surprised in the sense that it was unexpected or strange, but surprised in that this particular articulation of the way that God presents himself to his Creation as mercy had never really entered my mind. Love? Absolutely. Power? Of course. Grace? Yes. But mercy? There was the surprise and the confrontation. 

"Everything that the church says and does shows that God has mercy for men." (Pope Francis)

It is all too easy for followers of Jesus to say with our words that the church is the "hands and feet of Jesus", and that we are "ministers of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), and yet with our practices, our common life together as a community of believers to say God has mercy for us.

And so we enter into this season of Lent, of awakening, of repentance, of transformation asking that God will enliven within us a desire to experience and embody the mercy of God, the very face of God and the core of the Gospel message, on behalf of the whole world. 

Yes, I believe that this is a time for mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she makes them feel loved. And so, as I said, and I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, an opportune time. (Pope Francis)

It is indeed an opportune time to join God in his work in the world to save, to love, to heal, and to redeem. And all of this flows from God and through us in the unfolding and immeasurable mercy of the God who has revealed Godself to us in Jesus Christ.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 

(Ephesians 3:20-21, NRSV)