Extending the frontiers of God’s mercy PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 30 November 2015 14:49

REFLECTION

BY FR. ROY CIMAGALA

Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee of Mercy. One of its purposes is to see how we can extend divine mercy to all. The presumption is that Christ died for all, and thus, has given mercy and forgiveness to all.

This universal mercy can easily be gleaned when we consider one of Christ’s last words before dying: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Also, we can see the gratuitousness of his mercy when he readily but implicitly forgave the repentant thief and told him that he would be with Christ in paradise.

Many other instances in the gospel indicate the readiness and even the delight of God to extend mercy to people. The story of the prodigal son is one. Also that of the woman caught in adultery. Christ also told Peter to forgive not only 7 times, but 70 times 7.

The Jubilee of Mercy is also a time to see if there are certain ways in the current Church laws and practice that need to be improved, refined or modified to accommodate the ever growing need for divine mercy. So far, the Pope already simplified the annulment process and has given priests during the Jubilee the authority to lift excommunication cases.

This intention has, of course, stirred a lot of people. Even a few ecclesiastics have expressed concern. While many of those I asked want to downplay this issue, it cannot be denied that this issue is burning like anything. A specific case is that of the divorced and remarried who wish to receive Communion.

The crux of the matter is how and where to determine the boundary between mercy and justice, charity and truth, so that these two can be put together without compromising one or the other.

There had been claims that the Pope is playing with fire by appearing to entertain this issue. These fears have been reinforced when the Pope at the end of the recent Synod on the Family said:

“The Synod experience also made us better realize that the true defenders of doctrine are not those who uphold its letter, but its spirit; not ideas but people; not formulae but the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness.”

Those words somehow give one the impression of where the Pope’s mind drifts. I, for one, felt uncomfortable at the insinuation that there is conflict between the letter of the Church law and the true spirit of Christ, between ideas and persons, between formulae and the gratuitousness of God’s love and forgiveness, but without giving any idea of how these conflicts can be resolved.

But before we can go further into some fearful speculation, the Pope qualified these words by saying: “This is in no way to detract from the importance of formulae, laws and divine commandments, but rather to exalt the greatness of the true God, who does not treat us according to our merits or even according to our works but solely according to the boundless generosity of his Mercy.”

I suppose the Pope is trying, with the help of the bishops, to find ways of how to extend the frontiers of divine mercy that is so much needed these days, given the many difficult situations.

Just the same, I was reassured when at an address recently about priestly mission and formation, he said the following that somehow shows there are boundaries between mercy and justice, charity and truth. The words may not be very direct and explicit, but the substance can easily be detected. These are the words:

“Closeness, depths of mercy, loving look: to make one experience the beauty of a life lived according to the Gospel and the love of God that makes itself concrete also through His ministers…

“Ways can always be found to give absolution. Receive well. However, sometimes one cannot absolve. There are priests who say, ‘No, I cannot absolve you of this, go away.’ This is not the way.

“’If you cannot give absolution, explain and say, ‘God loves you so much, God wishes you well. There are so many ways to come to God. I cannot give you absolution. I’ll give you a blessing. But come back, always come back here; every time you come back, I will give you a blessing as a sign that God loves you.’

“And that man or woman goes away full of joy because he/she has found the icon of the Father, who never rejects; in one way or another He has embraced him/her.’”

Reassuring words, even as we continue, as we ought, to explore the mysterious ways of God’s mercy together with Pope Francis!