Jubilee: for pope, a hard line is not the way, even for the Church, healing the wounded is
Vatican City (AsiaNews) - Less than a week before the start of Jubilee Year, Pope Francis told Credere, the official Italian language publication of the Jubilee of Mercy, that small deeds will be performed to bear witness to God’s mercy. “Each Friday, I shall do something different,” he said.
“The theme of mercy,” Francis explained, “has been strongly emphasised in the life of the Church, starting with Pope Paul VI. John Paul II resolutely noted it in Dives in Misericordia, in canonising Saint Faustina and in instituting the feast day of Divine Mercy on the Octave of Easter. Likewise, I felt the Lord wanted to show His mercy to humanity. It is not something that occurred to me, but rather it is a relatively recent tradition but one that has always existed.
“I realised that something had to be done, that we had to continue this tradition. My first Angelus as pope was about God’s mercy. On that occasion, I also spoke about a book on mercy given to me by Cardinal Walter Kasper during the Conclave. Even in my first homily as pope, on Sunday 17 March at the Parish of Saint Anne, I spoke about mercy. It was not part of any strategy. It came from within: the Holy Spirit wanted something.
“It is obvious that today's world needs mercy and compassion, namely the capacity for empathy. We are accustomed to bad news, cruel news and the worst atrocities that offend God’s name and life. The world needs to discover that God is the Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way, that condemnation is not the way, because the Church itself sometimes takes a hard line, and falls into the temptation of following a hard line, tempted to stress only moral rules. Yet, how many people are left out. The picture that comes to my mind is that of the Church as a field hospital after a battle. This is the truth: how many people have been injured and wrecked! The wounded need care and help to heal; they do not need to have their cholesterol level measured.
“I believe this is the time for mercy. We are all sinners; all of us carry inner burdens. I felt that Jesus wanted to open the door to His heart, that the Father wants to show us his inner mercy; and for this reason he sends us the Spirit: to move us and rouse us.
“This is the year of forgiveness, the year of reconciliation. On the one hand, we see the arms trade, the production of deadly weapons, the murder of innocent people in the cruellest possible ways, the exploitation of people, minors, children. Some sort of sacrilege is taking place against humanity, because humans are sacred, [made] in the image of the living God. As the Father says, 'stop and come to me'. This is what I see in the world.”
Answering a question on the importance of divine mercy in his journey as a priest and bishop, Francis said, “I am a sinner. I feel like a sinner. I am sure of it. I am a sinner whom the Lord looked upon with mercy. I am, as I said to prison inmates in Bolivia, a forgiven man. I am a forgiven man. God looked upon me with mercy and forgave me. I still make mistakes and commit sins, and I confess every 15 or 20 days. And if I go to confession it is because I need to feel that God's mercy is still upon me.
“I have said this many times. I remember when the Lord looked upon me with mercy. I always had the feeling that he was taking care of me in a special way. But the most significant moment came on 21 September 21 1953, when I was 17. It was the day of spring festival and the Day of the Student in Argentina. I would have [normally] spent it with other students. I was a practicing Catholic, I went to Sunday Mass, but nothing more . . . I was a member of Catholic Action (Acción Católica Argentina), but I was not involved in anything. I was just a practicing Catholic.
“On the way to the Flores train station, I passed by my parish church and felt a tug to go in. I went in and saw on the side a priest I did not know. I do not know what happened to me at that moment, but I felt the need to confess, at the first confessional on the left, where many people went to pray. I do not know what happened, I came out a different person, changed. I went home with the certainty that I had to dedicate myself to the Lord.
“That priest accompanied me for almost a year. He was a priest from Corrientes, Don Carlos Duarte Benito Ibarra, who lived in the House of Clergy in Flores. He suffered from leukaemia and was being treated in hospital. He died the following year.
“After the funeral I wept bitterly; I felt totally lost, fearing that God had abandoned me. This was the moment when I came across God's mercy, which it is closely related to my episcopal motto. 21 September is the feast day of Saint Matthew. Speaking about Saint Matthew’s conversion, the Venerable Bede said that Jesus looked at Matthew 'miserando atque eligendo’. This expression cannot be translated because in Italian as well as Spanish one of the two verbs does not have the gerund. The literal translation would be 'pitying and choosing' [. . .]. ‘He pitied him’ is the literal translation of the words.
“Years later, as I was reciting the Latin breviary, I found this text. I realised that the Lord had skilfully crafted me with His mercy. Every time I came to Rome, staying in Via della Scrofa, I went to the Church of San Luigi dei Francesi (Church of Saint Louis of the French) to pray before a painting by Caravaggio, that is the Calling of St Matthew."
In the next question, the Holy Father was asked, “Can the Jubilee of Mercy be an opportunity to rediscover God's 'maternity'? Is there an almost 'feminine' aspect to the Church that must be valued?”
“Yes. God Himself says so when, in the Book of Isaiah, He says that a mother could perhaps forget her child, even a mother can forget, but 'I will never forsake you'. Here we can see God’s maternal aspect. [However,] Not everyone understands when we speak about God's motherliness. It is not part of everyday language – in the good sense of the word. It comes across as a bit elitist. For this reason, I prefer to speak about tenderness, which is typical of a mother – God's tenderness, the tenderness that comes from within the Father. God is both father and mother.”
Answering another question about a God who is moved and touched by humans, the pope said, “Discovering this leads us to a more tolerant, more patient, and tenderer attitude. In 1994, during the Synod, in a group meeting I said that it was necessary to begin a revolution of tenderness. A synod father – a good man, whom I respect and love – already very old, told me that it was inappropriate to use this kind of terminology and gave me a reasonable explanation, as the intelligent man he was. However, I continue to say that today the revolution is one of tenderness, because justice and everything else derive from it.
“I told him, if an employer hires an employee from September to July, he is not doing the right thing because he will lay him off for the July holidays and then rehire him with a new contract from September to July. This way the worker will not be entitled to any benefits, pension or social security. He will not be entitled to anything. The employer is not showing any tenderness; he is treating his employee as an object. This is just as an example of the lack of tenderness. If you put yourself in the shoes of that person, instead of thinking about [filling] your own pockets with some extra money, things can change.
“The revolution of tenderness is what we must cultivate today as the fruit of this Year of Mercy: God's tenderness towards each one of us. Each one of us must say, 'I am a wretch, but God loves me as I am; so, I must love others in the same way'.”