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Mercy: The Beating Heart of the Gospel

Fr. James H. Kroeger, MM

Living Mission  


POPE Francis is truly a “pope of mercy.”  This fact was clearly demonstrated by the theme chosen for his January 2015 visit to the Philippines: mercy and compassion.  As noted by the Philippine bishops in their pastoral letter: “The Holy Father has clearly laid out his wish that the main objective of his visit is to bring Christ’s compassion for our suffering people, still struggling to rise from the devastation wrought by the earthquake and typhoon.”

In a unique way Pope Francis has focused the Church’s attention on the theme of mercy and the poor.  His document, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), proclaims an entire year of mercy, extending from December 8, 2015 [50th anniversary of the close of Vatican II] to November 20, 2016 [Feast of Christ the King].  Francis says: “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy.  It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace…. Mercy [is] the bridge that connects God and man” (MV 2).

God, Father of Mercy.  Scripture clearly affirms that God is “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation” (2 Cor 1:3).  Our God is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).  One of Jesus’ best known parables is that of the “merciful father” (though often known as the parable of the prodigal son): Lk 15:11-32.  The magnanimous father shows his overflowing love, mercy and compassion to both of his sons.  There is great rejoicing because the younger brother, presumably dead, has returned alive.  A close reading of this narrative reveals the overflowing mercy and tenderness of the compassionate father.

Jesus, the Face of the Father’s Mercy.  In Jesus of Nazareth, mercy has become living and visible.  Indeed, whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9).  Jesus’ entire life and “his person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously….  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” (MV 8).  Jesus “felt deep compassion” for the crowds (Mt 9:36).  Jesus spoke many parables devoted to mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the father with two sons (Lk 15:4-7, 8-10, 11-32).

Church, Community of Mercy.  “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life.  All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy.  “The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy … and when she brings people close to the sources of the savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser” (MV 11).  “The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel….  Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (MV 12).

Mary, Mother of Mercy.  “My thoughts now turn to the Mother of Mercy….  No one has penetrated the profound mystery of the incarnation like Mary.  Her entire life was patterned after the presence of mercy made flesh….  She treasured divine mercy in her heart….  Her hymn of praise (Lk 1:46-55) was dedicated to the mercy of God….  At the foot of the cross, Mary, together with John, the disciple of love, witnessed the words of forgiveness spoken by Jesus.  This supreme expression of mercy towards those who crucified him shows us the point to which the mercy of God can reach” (MV 24).

Christians and the Practice of Mercy.  Some guidelines for our living-in-mercy are: (1) Manifesting God’s mercy is a duty for every Christian; it is not optional; (2) Mercy addresses suffering / “poverty” of various types in the world: physical, spiritual, personal, structural, and psychological; (3) We need to practice mercy both ad intra and ad extra [both in and beyond our homes and communities]; (4) Mercy is demanding; it is not easy; yes, its demands are often inconvenient and unpredictable; it impinges on our personal plans and schedules; it is not only giving things, but giving ourselves.

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