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The gaze of two faces

THE TITLE OF the recently released apostolic letter of Pope Francis, Mercy and Misery, has a close connection with the quotation from St. Augustine about the encounter of Jesus with a sinner, “… the two of them alone remained: mercy with misery.”

In the encounter, which is filled with profound meaning, the Merciful Lord and the miserable adulterer gaze at each other. This image brings deep meaning to the pastoral care of the family and marriage, which we are challenged to ponder.

It is out of love that human beings form families. And it is also out of love that they procreate. Families are communities of love. And only families with a merciful heart can walk together in love and nourish people’s spirit.

There is a traditional Chinese saying, “Love my own children and extend the same love to the children of others; care for my own elderly parents and extend the same care to the elderly parents of others.”

Love in the family enables us to understand the beauty and goodness of love, so we can love others and follow the example of Jesus Christ by loving all humankind. That is the value of mercy.

In the gaze between mercy and misery, the Church hopes that people can incline themselves towards the Merciful Lord. But this presupposes a loving family in which parents love their children and children love their parents. It is the mercy nourished in the family that gives pastoral care to families. This is the beginning of mercy.

However, on the other side of the gaze, there is misery, which is also derived from the family. The Russian author, Leo Tolstoy, said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Families are both important and delicate. They can easily become fragmented and fraught with problems, leaving the whole family in misery. Loss of parents, distant parent-children relationship, an over strict or indulgent hand all have their consequences.

People grow in families and a family which does not grow will have problems. But on the other side of the gaze is the image of the woman in the biblical story of the Woman Taken in Adultery.

She was a sinner who had made indefensible mistakes, but she was also miserable. In today’s society, broken families are faced with this experience too. If a good spouse becomes unpardonable, we do convict.

This year, the diocese will emphasise the pastoral care of families and married life. Families in modern society can be the beginning of mercy or the source of misery.

While they have creativity beyond imagination, they can damage whole lives through negligence. In this New Year, we are looking for a balanced development with deep mercy, which is willing to love both family and all people on the one side; and show mercy to the miserable with the openness to embrace mishaps on the other.

While sin has its own unfortunate root and cause, we should lean towards the merciful rather than the judgmental.

During this year, may our merciful hearts be at play in families, parishes and wider society. SE