By Mike James
Pope Francis began his televised address to 120 Cardinals and Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean last Saturday, as they gathered for the Continental celebration of the Year of Mercy with the following quotation from the letter of St Paul to his beloved disciple Timothy:
“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience” (1 Tim
And Francis continued:
1. “In speaking to him, Paul wants to speak to each of us. His words are an invitation, I would even say, a provocation. Words meant to motivate Timothy and all those who would hear them throughout history. They are words that cannot leave us indifferent; rather, they profoundly affect our lives. Paul minces no words: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom Paul considers himself the worst. He is clearly aware of who he is, he does not conceal his past or even his present. But he describes himself in this way neither to excuse or justify himself, much less to boast of his condition.”
2. We have the opportunity to be here because, with Paul, we can say: “We received mercy”. For all our sins, our limitations, our failings, for all the many times we have fallen, Jesus has looked upon us and drawn near to us. He has given us his hand and showed us mercy. To whom? To me, to you, to everyone. All of us can think back and remember the many times the Lord looked upon us, drew near and showed us mercy. All those times that the Lord kept trusting, kept betting on us
3. That is what Paul calls “sound teaching” – think about it! – sound teaching is this: that we received mercy. That is the heart of Paul’s letter to Timothy. During this time of the Jubilee, how good it is for us to reflect on this truth, to think back on how throughout our lives the Lord has always been near us and showed us mercy. To concentrate on remembering our sin and not our alleged merits, to grow in a humble and guilt-free awareness of all those times we turned away from God – we, not someone else, not the person next to us, much less that of our people – and to be once more amazed by God’s mercy. That is a sure message, sound teaching, and never empty talk.
4. Mercy is not simply a beautiful word. It is a concrete act of drawing close to others and making them feel that “the last word has not yet been spoken” in their lives. These people must be treated in such a way “that those who feel crushed by the burden of their sins can feel relieved at being given another chance.” “Paul’s God starts a movement from heart to hands, the movement of one who is unafraid to draw near, to touch, to caress, without being scandalized, without condemning, without dismissing anyone. A way of acting that becomes incarnate in people’s lives,” the Pope added. The way of mercy can seek what is best for the other person “in a way they can understand.”
5. “Today we are asked especially to show mercy to God’s holy and faithful people – they know a lot about being merciful because they have a good memory –, to the people who come to our communities with their sufferings, sorrows and hurts,” the Pope exhorted. “But also to the people who do not come to our communities, yet are wounded by the paths of history and hope to receive mercy.” “Mercy is learned, because our Father continues to forgive us Our peoples already have enough suffering in their lives; they do not need us to add to it,” the Pope said. “To learn to show mercy is to learn from the Master how to become neighbours, unafraid of the outcast and those ‘tainted’ and marked by sin. To learn to hold out our hand to those who have fallen, without being afraid of what people will say. ” Pope Francis encouraged the Catholic cardinals, bishops, and other leaders to be grateful that God “trusts us to repeat with his people the immense acts of mercy he has shown us.”
The message of Pope Francis, echoing Jesus, is so clear and simple, yet so difficult to take seriously.
Why is it that I find it so difficult to be forgiving, lenient, merciful? Why is that the first commandment of politicians, (and so many in authority in and outside the Church) as well as of communities, families, spouses and individuals like you or me is “NEVER having to say SORRY”.
The answers to both questions is the same. I find it difficult to forgive, to be lenient, to find excuses for others, to be merciful because deep down, or not so deep down, I really do believe that there is nothing serious that I have ever done that God has forgiven me. If I can be (nearly) perfect, why can´t others. If I am not a sinner, why should I forgive others, the sinners, who are not making the effort that I make.
But Jesus, St. Paul, Francis keep reminding me that I am a sinner, a constantly forgiven sinner.
We are to be merciful, not because the other is not a culpable, unrepentant sinner, but rather because we have first and constantly been forgiven of greater sins.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone… Forgive us our sins, (exactly) as we forgive those who sin against us…. Her sins many as they are, are forgiven and therefore she has loved greatly. Whoever is forgiven little, loves little…. I thank you God that I am not like others, like that sinner over there… I tell you the other (sinner) went home justified… I have not come to call the just, but sinners” The Gospels are full of it, clear but difficult to accept, above all by “good” people.
Apart from God, only those who recognize themselves as sinners are capable of showing genuine mercy. The only truly merciful people are sinners.