"Merciful like the Father"

On Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis announces a Year of Mercy that should elevate the efforts of Catholic ecologists

"Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead." Pope Francis, Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy

Pope Francis announced on Saturday during the First Vespers of Divine Mercy Sunday that the universal Church will enter into a Jubilee Year of Mercy. Its theme will be "Merciful like the Father" and it will begin on December 8th, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In his Bull of Indiction announcing the Year, Pope Francis tells us why he’s called for this special moment in the life of the Church.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.

Those of us concerned with ecological issues will be especially challenged by the Pope’s vision for the Year of Mercy. I know I will, sinner that I am.

God’s Mercy and man’s desire to receive it is, after all, necessary for the conversion of the human heart. And the world will not be saved—spiritually, morally, or ecologically—without a great conversion of hearts across the globe.

“This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice." + Pope Francis

That said, Catholic ecologists may wish to pay attention to some of the specific calls of the Holy Father’s introductory catechesis on the Year of Mercy.

A continuation of the Second Vatican Council

Pope Francis will open the Year of Mercy on December 8th by literally opening the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica. That date was chosen because it's the fiftieth anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council.

The Holy Father notes why this connection is being made: The council, he says, “was a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning. It was a fresh undertaking for all Christians to bear witness to their faith with greater enthusiasm and conviction. The Church sensed a responsibility to be a living sign of the Father’s love in the world.”

And indeed, the sharing of the Gospel—of the Father’s love in the world—is a necessary component in helping the world understand why the current orders of business and lifestyles are harming people, places, and the planet. This sharing the father’s love is another way of saying that we are called to baptize the post-modern world. And that is really what Vatican II asks of the Church—the laity especially. Giving witness to and sharing the gospel should thus be at the top of a Catholic ecologist’s to-do list during the Year of Mercy and at all times.

Another note on the timing: December 8th will also be the time that the international meetings in Paris on climate change will be underway. Certainly we should give some thought to this alignment.

The balance of justice and mercy

To baptize the world, one must shower it with mercy. Pope Francis spends a great deal of his opening catechesis of the Year of Mercy on the centrality of offering mercy to all people, everywhere. His examination of mercy throughout biblical revelation takes the Holy Father to the words of his predecessor, St. John Paul II. These are vital words to consider for those seeking environmental justice:

Saint John Paul II highlighted the fact that we had forgotten the theme of mercy in today’s cultural milieu: “The present-day mentality, more perhaps than that of people in the past, seems opposed to a God of mercy, and in fact tends to exclude from life and to remove from the human heart the very idea of mercy. The word and the concept of ‘mercy’ seem to cause uneasiness in man, who, thanks to the enormous development of science and technology, never before known in history, has become the master of the earth and has subdued and dominated it (cf. Gen 1:28). This dominion over the earth, sometimes understood in a one-sided and superficial way, seems to have no room for mercy …” [St. John Paul II, Dives In Misericordia, 2]

Put another way, is it any wonder why humanity is stripping the world of its life and resources in an age when science and technology has elevated the vices that come with wanton selfishness and self-gratification? And is not the offering of mercy the antidote to all this—yes, even offering mercy to polluters of every stripe!—so that those who are offered mercy might change their ways and themselves offer mercy to others and to the world?

Pilgrimage as a journey to the mercy of the Father.

“This will be a sign that mercy is also a goal to reach and requires dedication and sacrifice. May pilgrimage be an impetus to conversion: by crossing the threshold of the Holy Door, we will find the strength to embrace God’s mercy and dedicate ourselves to being merciful with others as the Father has been with us.”

Pope Francis continues his catechesis by illustrating the journey of faith—the journey back to God the Father—in ways that are reminiscent of the return of the Prodigal Son. The pontiff invites us all to journey to and enter through a Holy Door—either at St. Peter’s or any of those he asks be open in every diocese and holy place within the universal Church. (This local angle is important, since it will reduce the amount of energy needed for people to get to their destination!)

Put another way, is it any wonder why humanity is stripping the world of its life and resources in an age when science and technology has elevated the vices that come with wanton selfishness and self-gratification?

Providentially, I was struck how the Holy Father’s words of a journey came for me after a week at work focused on communicating climate change and helping people understand why a change in our ways is like a communal journey from one way of life to a better one for all.

Embracing the works of mercy

As noted at the top of this post, the Holy Father will be urging the faithful to better know and live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Likewise he exhorts his brother bishops and priests to offer to their flocks more opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And throughout the Year of Mercy, the Holy Father will be sending special “missionaries of mercy” to local churches. This will help elevate the presence of the Year of Mercy throughout the world and not just in Rome.

In other words, Pope Francis wants to spread abundantly God’s grace—and he wants those of us who claim to be disciples of Christ to be strengthened and healed by this grace so that we can then go and strengthen and heal the world. What is perhaps most significant, however, is Pope Francis’s call to the corrupt and the criminal. The Holy Father writes that

[c]orruption is a sinful hardening of the heart that replaces God with the illusion that money is a form of power. It is a work of darkness, fed by suspicion and intrigue. … If we want to drive it out from personal and social life, we need prudence, vigilance, loyalty, transparency, together with the courage to denounce any wrongdoing. If it is not combated openly, sooner or later everyone will become an accomplice to it, and it will end up destroying our very existence.

Given that so much of the statistics around ecological damage can be traced to the corrupt and the criminal activities, we should applaud what the Holy Father is calling us to. That is, to be part of a graced moment in the history of the Church wherein we share with others the very heart of God, especially to those in most need of His mercy, as the Fatima prayer says.

There will certainly be much to ponder as we plan for and enter into the Year of Mercy. For now, let us listen to Pope Francis as he speaks to us on this Sunday of Divine Mercy:

The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people approach it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.

And lastly, for those who may not be familiar with why today is the Feast of Divine Mercy, the following brief video gets to the Heart of the matter.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.