Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pope Francis' Do's and Don'ts of Mercy

We're joining Loyola Press in celebrating the release of The Church of Mercy , a brand new book documenting Pope Francis' vision for the Catholic Church in his own words. The book shares the Holy Father's powerful message of mercy, service and renewal - a message that has captured the attention of Catholic's and non-Catholic's alike.

Our beloved Pope Francis knows how to tell it like it is. His direct style seems to be one of his most endearing qualities. In fact, his bluntness is so engaging, that even when he is delivering some, a-hem, fraternal correction, it is received by the faithful with joyful cheers. "Thank you sir, may I have another" comes to mind.... He does, however, do so much more than teach through mere words. Through his actions, Pope Francis is showing the world what it means to live out our identity as Catholics - a life of mercy received and given.

One of the Holy Father's favorite subjects is mercy. God's mercy, and our openness to both receive that mercy and extend that mercy to others, is a frequent topic of his homilies, audiences and other messages. Here are three "don'ts and do's" of mercy according to Pope Francis.

Don't build walls.
In a powerful and convicting morning homily, Pope Francis spoke how evangelization is stifled by those who prefer to build walls which exclude people, rather than having the "Apostolic courage" to go out to those who are on the fringes and take the time to listen to their stories. He warns that "when the Church loses this apostolic courage, she becomes a lifeless Church. Orderly, perhaps — nice, very nice — but barren, because she has lost the courage to go to the outskirts, where there are so many people who are victims of idolatry, worldliness, and weak thought.” In the work of evangelization it is often tempting to take the safe road, and isolate ourselves behind the walls of the church, rather than going out into the messy world of humanity's struggles, difficult questions and painful life-situations. According to Pope Francis' words and example, this is exactly the where the church needs to go, bearing with her the message of mercy and the Good News of Jesus.

From the earliest moments of his Pontificate, we have witnessed Pope Francis tearing down walls through his gentle, yet powerful actions of love and mercy. We have seen him wash the feet of juvenile delinquents, embrace those who are severely disfigured or disabled, take selfies with teens and urge nursing Moms to feed their babies at Mass. With each action, the Pope is showing us by example how to reach out in love and mercy to those who might otherwise feel excluded from the church and tear down any walls of artificial separation which may exist.

Do build bridges.
The Pope offers an alternative to the exclusionary option of "building walls"  - that of "building bridges". Using the example of St. Paul's preaching to the idolaters in Athens, the Pope says that St. Paul's strategy was not to condemn the Athenians in their sin, but to "build a bridge to their hearts, and then take a step further and proclaim Jesus Christ” He goes on to say that St. Paul's approach was simply following the example of how Jesus dealt with those on the outskirts of the religious establishment - he took the time to "listen to everyone." As Catholics, each of us has the ability to be an ambassador of mercy and a builder of bridges through the simple, yet under-utilized art of listening. A compassionate, listening ear, rather than a harsh, condemning tone can be all the difference necessary to lead others into faith in Christ Jesus. Like St. Paul, we can build a bridge to the heart of the people we meet who may be struggling with doubt, sin and unbelief. Once that bridge is built, we can humbly and honestly share our faith and invite the other person to cross that bridge with us to help them.

Those same actions of Pope Francis which have torn down walls, have also been the very actions that have enabled him to be truly Pontifex - a bridge builder. His witness has begun to build bridges over which people who may never have considered the Catholic faith are now beginning to approach and cross.

Don't wait to go to Confession.
This is one of my favorite videos of the Holy Father. You simply can't get more direct than this - but each time I watch it I just want to run to Confession!

Do seek the Lord's mercy with humility and confidence. 
Pope Francis' actions speak far louder than his words on the necessity of seeking the Lord's mercy with humility. He makes going to confession look so easy - because it is!  Even when what we are confessing is difficult, or it has been a long time since our last confession we need to approach the sacrament with humility and confidence in the great mercy of Jesus who is waiting to forgive us.

Don't doubt the Lord's mercy.
On many occasions, Pope Francis has drawn from the powerful words of Scripture to illustrate the infinite scope of God's mercy and love for us. In his homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, 2013, the Pope describes St. Thomas' encounter with the mercy of Jesus. He comments on Jesus' response to Thomas' doubts: "How does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time, he does not close the door, he waits." 

What beautiful, comforting thoughts the Holy Father shares with us!  We must never doubt God's mercy - never assume that he has lost patience with us, or "written us off" as too stubborn or difficult. It can be a temptation to project our own imperfect experiences of patience and mercy that we have received from others onto God, but this is a grave mistake, for God's mercy is perfect. Pope Francis invites each of us to experience the mercy of the Father where "We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love."

Do radically trust in God's mercy. 
"What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one which always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up and leads us on." With these words, also spoken on Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis provides for us the foundation that we need to build our radical trust in God's mercy upon - His unconditional love. Because God's love for us is so perfect, so total and unfailing, we can have the confidence to place all our trust in him -  even at times when we have gravely injured our side of the relationship or at times when it seems that the situation we find ourselves in seems helpless and hopeless. It is during these difficult times, that God is ready to shower us with his mercy. Like the Prodigal Son, we have only to begin to move towards the Father and we will find him already there, waiting for us with the open arms of mercy.

Read More Related Posts:
What's the Big Deal About the Pope Going to Confession
7 Lessons From Pope Francis
Front Row With Francis: A Path To Unity
Bothering Our Pastors

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