Pope Francis' call to be merciful comes from the merciful loving kindness shown to us first.
By Alan Mowbray SJ
The sun now high in the heavens is warm on our backs and chestnut trees with white ‘candles’ on their branches tell us the month of May has arrived. Mother Nature is fresh and alive. Creativity is bursting out all over. Our ancestors celebrated the source of this new birth of life by offering gifts to a goddess of spring. However, early Christians were aware that God the Creator was the true source of all life and that Mary, mother of the Lord of Life, would give a new dimension to the month of May.
The Time is Ripe
It was Mary who understood that the time had come for Jesus to reveal himself as the Son of God even though Jesus had said to her a few moments earlier that his time had not come. However, Mary went ahead and told the servants “to do whatever he tells you”. She was referring to the jars full of water nearby. Jesus revealed who he truly was by changing the water into wine for the wedding guests. The time had come for bringing the Plan into action.
This Plan was often expressed by Jesus with the harvest image. (A man goes out to sow seed for the harvest.) The harvest in this parable was a favourite image for the fulfilment of God's Plan. No person or event could hinder the outcome of this Plan.
The Cry of the Earth
It strikes me that our Pope Francis has a sense of this ‘moment’ when he wrote his letter on climate change. He urgently asked us to listen to the cry of the Earth before our planet overheats and so makes life on Earth unliveable. He asked in this letter that we build awareness that we all share a common home. Our planet has a need for our care. The Creator has entrusted this Earth into our hands. We are guardians not abusers.
Birds or Blades?
An uncle of mine used to cut a field of hay in circles, not in straight lines. Before the last centre circle, he would stop the tractor and wave to us children to run into that circle before it was cut. We would dash in to catch the corncrakes that were hiding in the hay - but we never caught a single one. The birds would fly or run in all directions. Many years later, I learned that this was his way of saving the corncrakes, which otherwise would be cut to pieces by the tractor’s blades. He was caring for the Earth long before most of realised how vital his attitude was.
The second letter of Pope Francis takes a good look at where mercy sits in our culture to-day. He has asked us to reinstate the value of mercy into our Christian way of living. Many moons before becoming our Pope, Francis had chosen as his motto the word ‘misericordia’, that is, mercy. He has remarked that this word has within it the word ‘cordia’, that is, heart. It is not a legal business. It is a compassionate action.
Another clue to what being merciful means is to go back to an ancient word where it meant loving kindness. Would it be true to say that our word 'mercy' has that richness? Do we grasp God as a Person of loving kindness as revealed to us by Jesus? Yet, in His parables, in his healing love and in His loving relationship to His Father it is there for all to see. Sadly, many Christians have inherited a ‘judge’ rather than a shepherd as their perception of God. But Christians are called to go beyond justice.
Francis likes using the phrase ‘merciful love’ in his letter. Sad to say, he continues, the practice of mercy is waning in the wider culture. In some cases, the word has dropped out of use. Then he gets to the point that without a witness to mercy, life becomes fruitless and sterile. His invitation is this:
‘The time has come for the Church to take up the joyful call to mercy once more.’
This loving kindness keeps coming up in the gospels. God is shown to be a person who never gives up on us and is patiently waiting for the world to turn to love; a God who always forgives and lets compassion and mercy melt our rejection. Maybe it is wiser to concentrate on the picture of God that Jesus has revealed to us rather than on some negative images of God that we could have picked up in the past. Francis is saying that steeped in this mercy we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of the Lord. This way of loving kindness becomes a criterion for spotting who the Father’s children are. The call to be merciful comes from a grasp that this merciful loving kindness has been shown to us first. The late Terry Wogan, in his interview with Gay Byrne, pointed to kindness as the key quality to any relationship, especially for marriage.