Misericordia et Misera 2: The Sign of Forgiveness

john-8At the conclusion of the Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter. The word count tips past seven-thousand, and many numbered sections contain multiple paragraphs. Follow this link for the full document, Misericordia et Misera.

Remember at the end of section 1, Pope Francis noted that “Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.” From there, we read:

2. Jesus had taught this clearly on another occasion, when he had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee (cf. Lk 7:36-50) and a woman, known by everyone to be a sinner, approached him. She poured perfume over his feet, bathed them with her tears and dried them with her hair (cf. vv. 37-38). To the scandalized reaction of the Pharisee, Jesus replied: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little” (v. 47).

The evangelists, certainly John and Luke were aware of the human tendency to wrap ourselves in virtue and to consider ourselves the arbiters of sin, offense, and justice. But in John 8 and Luke 7, Jesus does not side with the onlookers. In the former account, he introduces silent reflection into the picture. In today’s cited passage, he asks his host, “Do you see this woman?” Fairly often, we elder siblings fire first and aim later. The Lord invites us to open our eyes. If we did so, what would we see?

Forgiveness is the most visible sign of the Father’s love, which Jesus sought to reveal by his entire life. Every page of the Gospel is marked by this imperative of a love that loves to the point of forgiveness. Even at the last moment of his earthly life, as he was being nailed to the cross, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

Perhaps we misinterpret this voicing of forgiveness as heroic. Or godly. It is quite consistent with the entire narrative of the Gospel message when one thinks about it.

Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God’s mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness. For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional. Mercy is always a gratuitous act of our heavenly Father, an unconditional and unmerited act of love. Consequently, we cannot risk opposing the full freedom of the love with which God enters into the life of every person.

I suspect this is the underlying principle of the opening of forgiveness to the Church’s “undesirables,” those who have procured an abortion, those who have married outside of Church practice, even those who vote for the wrong political party. Pope Francis speaks of a risk. What is that danger? I would interpret that as actions that chase people away from God and alienate them from religion. In other words, proclaiming an antigospel.

Mercy is this concrete action of love that, by forgiving, transforms and changes our lives. In this way, the divine mystery of mercy is made manifest. God is merciful (cf. Ex 34:6); his mercy lasts for ever (cf. Ps 136). From generation to generation, it embraces all those who trust in him and it changes them, by bestowing a share in his very life.

How do we guard against being duped by consistent sinners? Maybe we don’t. Maybe it takes faith that God acts through concrete works of mercy and if someone, somewhere, takes advantage God may yet work through the good example given. No doubt, God will continue to pursue every wayward daughter or son. The question remains: do we want to be part of the celebration of return, or will we retreat to the front porch to nurse our anger?

Any thoughts from you readers?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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