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An everyday kind of mercy

ROME (AsiaNews): There are no spectacular revelations, big projects or out of the box ideas in the apostolic letter introduced by Pope Francis at the ceremony to close the Holy Door and end the Jubilee of Mercy at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on November 20.

Yet in a commonplace low key manner, Misericordia et Misera (Mercy and Misery) shows us exactly how what can be considered extraordinary can flow into our ordinary lives, and mercy—a scarce commodity in our world—can become an integral and visible component of the everyday witness of Christians in creating a world with a culture of mercy as its hallmark.

The idea that compassion, tenderness, attention to the poor and the sick should be the energiser of everyday lives can at first appear self-evident.

But the more our world has become globalised and the more new communication technologies intended to bring people closer together become available, the more people are isolated.

The apostolic letter points out that the more the poor and the rich, the healthy and the sick, refugee and resident lose the ability to wonder, the bigger the ocean of indifference becomes, breeding forms of sadness and loneliness into which people fall, even young people.

The pope says that the Church needed to rediscover the mercy that clothes the nakedness of sin and human misery. He describes this as a sign that Christianity was forgetting its roots and the purpose of its very existence.

Pope Francis incorporates the work of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI in saying that God’s mercy pulls us back toward the centre of the faith. The source of its very breath.

It is far from surprising that Pope Francis should point to the traditional elements of common faith as precious jewels; the Mass, the sacraments, the word of God and the homily as being sources of strength and inspiration.

Pope Francis describes the homily as the testimony of the priest, calling it a way of telling people and assuring them that God loves us all.

He also used the occasion to extend the faculty to absolve the sin of abortion to all priests, which was granted as a special concession for the Jubilee of Mercy, although it has existed in many countries for decades.

In a move that was widely predicted, he also recognised the validity of the sacraments for priests belonging to the Society of Pius X, a group that has been at loggerheads with the Vatican and the whole Church for years.

He is introducing special celebrations, one of God’s word, in addition to a World Day of the Poor as a challenge to the whole Church to undergo a change of heart and rethink value systems, reshuffle priorities and craft a new way of looking at others.

Although the pope mentions the age old forms of poverty; hunger, thirst, disease, illiteracy and shelter, as well as newly recognised ones like not knowing God, which he calls “the greatest poverty and the greatest obstacle to the acknowledgment of the inviolable dignity of human life,” there are no appeals to states, governments or international organisations.

In their place, he proposes everything should be the free gift of every man or woman, especially Christians, whose vocation it is to catalyse societies to embrace those who need assistance.

Although some commentators had predicted that he would extend mercy to the illicit bishops of China, they are not mentioned.

Nor does Pope Francis make any attempt to suggest any rational solution to the issues that were debated during the Jubilee, like how to reconcile mercy with justice or the indissolubility of matrimony and communion for the divorced.

But he does offer a response concerning the moral law saying that 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,” he says.

Pope Francis also leaves adequate space to seek a Catholic way to pull together mercy and justice, creating a central space by giving attention to the concrete God and the concrete person. “You do not meet sin and judgement in the abstract, but a sinner and the saviour,” he writes.

Perhaps this central space will open the doors to a dialogue between those who have become the opposing sides in the Church, that of the so-called traditionalists, who are caricatured as defending a cold justice, and so-called liberals, who advocate a mercy without scrutiny.

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