“Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church; it constitutes her very existence, through which the profound truths of the Gospel are made manifest and tangible. Everything is revealed in mercy; everything is resolved in the merciful love of the Father” (Mercy and Peace, no. 1).
On the occasion of the close of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis issued a new Apostolic Letter titled, Misericordia et Misera (“Mercy and Peace”), in which the Holy Father addresses the need for the spirit of the Year of Mercy to continue into the future even while the Jubilee Year itself comes to a close.
Using the narrative of Jesus’s encounter with the woman accused of adultery (John 8:1-11) as an opening and guiding image, Pope Francis says that, “Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else” (Mercy and Peace, no. 1).It is through the encounter with Jesus that both the accused woman and the bystanders experience the mercy of God as primary to any interpretation of the law.
The pope highlights a number of ways that Sacred Scripture offers us images and insights about the nature of God’s Mercy and the peace that only God can give. This document is extraordinarily rich, and one that deserves its own attentive readings—and so I encourage all to do that. I wish now only to highlight a few notable quotations and invite you to read the whole document in your own time.
On the theme of consolation as a fruit of mercy:
All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters (Mercy and Peace, no. 13).
On the theme of silence as an element of consolation:
Sometimes too, silence can be helpful, especially when we cannot find words in response to the questions of those who suffer. A lack of words, however, can be made up for by the compassion of a person who stays at our side, who loves us and who holds out a hand. It is not true that silence is an act of surrender; on the contrary, it is a moment of strength and love. Silence also belongs to our language of consolation, because it becomes a concrete way of sharing in the suffering of a brother or sister (Mercy and Peace, no. 13).
On the need for creative mercy in the church and broader world:
Now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those “many other signs” that Jesus worked, which “are not written” (Jn 20:30), so that they too may be an eloquent expression of the fruitfulness of the love of Christ and the community that draws its life from him. Two thousand years have passed, yet works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.
In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life (Mercy and Peace, no. 18).
On Mercy and the Dignity of the Human Person:
Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity. How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life! Let us think only about the many children who suffer from forms of violence that rob them of the joy of life. I keep thinking of their sorrowful and bewildered faces. They are pleading for our help to be set free from the slavery of the contemporary world. These children are the young adults of tomorrow. How are we preparing them to live with dignity and responsibility? With what hope can they face their present or their future?
The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy, lest our plans and projects remain a dead letter. May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God (Mercy and Peace, no. 19).
Finally, there is an important paragraph in which Pope Francis indefinitely extends his widespread granting of sacramental faculties for all priests to absolve sins pertaining to abortion (which, for those who are not in mendicant orders—e.g., Franciscan, Dominicans—other priests had to seek delegation from the local bishop to grant absolution for abortion previously).
Given this need, lest any obstacle arise between the request for reconciliation and God’s forgiveness, I henceforth grant to all priests, in virtue of their ministry, the faculty to absolve those who have committed the sin of procured abortion. The provision I had made in this regard, limited to the duration of the Extraordinary Holy Year, is hereby extended, notwithstanding anything to the contrary. I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life. In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father. May every priest, therefore, be a guide, support and comfort to penitents on this journey of special reconciliation (Mercy and Peace, no. 12).
And there are so many more passages worth pondering and sharing. Read the whole text here: Apostolic Letter Misericordia et Misera (“Mercy and Peace”).