The signature theme of the papacy of Pope Francis is the mercy of God. From the very beginning of his papacy, Pope Francis emphasized mercy and compassion. In his first apostolic exhortation, “The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis declared: “The Church must be a place of mercy freely given, where everyone can feel welcomed, loved, forgiven and encouraged to live the good life of the Gospel. As we await the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I thought of reflecting on the theme of mercy.What is new in Jesus’ message is that he proclaims God’s mercy for all in an ultimate way. Jesus opens up access to God not just for a few righteous people, but for all. There is room for all in God’s kingdom; no one is excluded. God has finally taken back his wrath and has given full scope to his love and mercy. Sinners were Jesus’ addressees in a special way. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus does not keep distance from them. He eats and has dinner with them. He is counted as the friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Jesus expounds for us the message of the father’s mercy most beautifully in his parables. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells who my neighbor is. He is not someone at a distance, but rather the one for whom you become the neighbor; the one whom you tangibly encounter and who needs your help in this particular situation. This love is not confined to family bonds, friendship, religious or ethnic membership. This love is gouged according to the concrete suffering and needy person who meets us on the way.
Jesus goes one step further in the parable of the prodigal son. Here the drama plays out between the father’s love and the waywardness of the son, who squandered his father’s inheritance through dissolute and debauched living, thereby losing his rights as a son. The father returns to him his rights as a son and acknowledges anew his dignity as a son. The father’s mercy exceeds every anticipated measure. Divine leads human beings to a return to the truth about themselves. God’s mercy does not humiliate the person.
God is the God of mercy. On the cross we witness the ultimate revelation of God’s mercy and compassion. By his mercy we have been rescued from death and reborn to a living hope. For this reason, Paul says, “nothing can separate us from his love, not hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or sword”. In every situation, no matter how hopeless, in life and death, we are accepted, held, and loved by God. As Cardinal Walter Kasper says, love, which is proven in mercy, can and must become the foundation of a new culture of our lives, the church, and for society.
Fr. Jilson George