We want to live this Jubilee Year in light of the Lord’s words: Merciful like the Father. Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 13
Maybe what the Catholic faithful need to hear isn’t more platitudes about mercy but rather, a call to repentance, atonement for sin, and obedience? Maybe we need a stern warning to clean up our acts or face the consequences?…They do not need to be reminded how merciful God is – they are already taking him for a fool – an indulgent father who never imposes any consequences. That’s precisely the problem…we need to be read the riot act, not to be patted on the head.
From a reader’s comment on my blog: Why Mercy Makes Us Uncomfortable
Believe me. I get it. There a few people in my own life to whom I’d like to read the riot act right now. And frankly, had I not tried that trick in the past and watched it go over like a dirty bomb, I might be less inclined to hold myself back.
Besides that, it’s the Year of Mercy. Not the Year of Reprimands. Not the Year of Dressing People Down. Not the Year of Slapping Others Over the Head to Tell Them What Screw-ups They Are. Tempting as those might be, it’s the Year of Mercy. We are called, as we’ve been hearing at the close of every Mass, to “be merciful as the Father is merciful.”
Which begs the question: What does the Father’s mercy look like?
We get a glimpse of that reality in Pope Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), as well as in Pope Francis’ Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), which seems to contain a very intentional echo of Benedict on the themes of love, justice and mercy. Just take a look. (While I offer a lengthy quote from each document, please treat yourself to reading both in their entirety.)
Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, par. 10, 12:
Israel has committed “adultery” and has broken the covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel!…my heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst” (Hos 11:8-9). God’s passionate love for his people—for humanity—is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is God’s love for man that by becoming man he follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice with love…(Jesus’) death on the Cross is the culmination of God turning against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”
Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, par. 21:
The experience of the prophet Hosea can help us see the way in which mercy surpasses justice. The era in which the prophet lived was one of the most dramatic in the history of the Jewish people. The kingdom was tottering on the edge of destruction; the people had not remained faithful to the covenant; they had wandered from God and lost the faith of their forefathers. According to human logic, it seems reasonable for God to think of rejecting an unfaithful people; they had not observed their pact with God and therefore deserved just punishment: in other words, exile. The prophet’s words attest to this: “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me” (Hos 11:5). And yet, after this invocation of justice, the prophet radically changes his speech and reveals the true face of God: “How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel!…My heart recoils within me, my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come to destroy” (Hos 11:8-9)….God does not deny justice. He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice…God’s justice is his mercy given to everyone as a grace that flows from the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus the Cross of Christ is God’s judgement on all of us and on the whole world, because through it he offers us the certitude of love and new life.
Do you hear what our popes are saying? God has already exacted his justice upon mankind, and it came in the form of the God-man dying on the Cross out of love for every one of us. The crucifixion of the innocent Lamb of God is God’s verdict against sinful mankind; God himself has already paid the price for sin. God’s infinite mercy is thus offered in love, given as gift and received through faith in Christ. This teaching is called the Good News.
So instead of reading people the riot act, why don’t we follow the lead of our popes and tell them that God loves them passionately and personally, and that he longs for his wild, gratuitous love to fulfill their deepest desires and completely transform their lives. All they need do is surrender. Now that a truth worth rioting—and dying for.