Posted on: 2016-07-22

Year of Mercy Blues

The ongoing Year of Mercy must constantly remind us of God's limitless and unfathomable loving kindness and our responsibility as His children to be perfect as our heavenly father is perfect (Lev. 19:10). As we seek to be perfect in showing mercy to others we are reminded as well of how God's infinite mercy is the real reason why we can even think of perfection in the first place. As a matter of fact, if we do not get jolted often this way out of our comfort zones about showing mercy to others, then the Year of Mercy could merely pass us by without much effect. This is one reason why Pope Francis often comes across to me as a Pope made for our time giving us those occasional much needed jolts that challenge our sensibilities and  jump-starts our 'drooling" spirit. Such was the situation recently when the Pope reportedly called on the Church to ask forgiveness of certain groups of people whom the Church may have offended. He listed gay people among those who could need such apologies. Many media organizations "smelt "blood" and went into overdrive publishing all manners of analyses and conclusions.  The first reaction from many Catholics  was nothing short of consternation.


The Media viewpoint.

The context of the Holy Father's comment was on a plane trip on June 27, 2016 as he responded to journalists' questions. As often happens with what the Pope says, much detail gets omitted in favor of media interpretations in order to disseminate, not really the Pope's own message but the reporters' viewpoint. The Pope's remarks on this occasion were not about gay people alone, but about any group the Church might have offended. In other words the invitation was to review history and make amends where necessary. This is really not as novel as it may sound for those who know the history of the Church. Pope Francis actually chose his words very carefully. Going by reliable account, his exact words were: "I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended, ...but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons."


The Convergence with Doctrine

The pope also said: "I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally".  So, here we see that Pope Francis did not at all depart from Church doctrine. Indeed, compassion and empathy have always been characteristics of mission in the Church. Except someone intends to cause mischief, this is not an endorsement of gay culture but a recognition that all human beings, even those in error, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.


Agreement with the Year of Mercy

The Pope said that welcoming words and forgiveness will always be part of authentic Christianity but endorsement of sin will never be. During the same interview he  re-emphasized that one can condemn behavior, and the Church does that, without condemning people. "Hate sin but not the sinner" is always a valid policy.  It is good to remember also that the Catholic Catechism still says that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered, are contrary to the natural law and cannot be approved under any circumstance. The simple fact is that some people will hear only what they will, no matter what the truth of what is said may be. So, the Pope correctly said that the Church must not only ask forgiveness of the gay person who she may have offended but of all whose dignity she may have failed to defend. That is a Christian duty which does not amount to endorsing evil. Jesus however pronounced woes on recalcitrant sinners of his time even as he invited all to repentance. Saint Paul called the Galatians "foolish" but he loved them all the same.  Speaking the truth even while applying the imperative of charity is a true corollary of the attribute of mercy. The Church does nothing different.

Church activities have a memory

People need to demonstrate  a clear understanding of the Church as the Church of Jesus Christ, holy, while its members are sinners. Think of Jesus Christ with the Samaritan woman at the well in John chapter 4! The displeasure of his disciples to find Jesus talking to her, one who was considered an untouchable, was undisguised. Jesus approached the woman with compassion and gentleness in order to eventually open her eyes to the truth.  That approach eventually turned the Samaritan into a Christian, because love conquers all. That is a residual characteristic from the legacy of Jesus Christ and Christianity, but is no reason for anyone to  wallow in sin .

The Jubilee Year 2000 lingers on

Nor were things very different with  Saint John Paul II, who in the year 2000 on behalf of the entire Church, apologized to different groups of people, like women and immigrants who had been treated not so well by the Church at any point in history. When pope John Paul II made that gesture, many people were scandalized at seeing the "almighty Church" seeming to capitulate and showing weakness by apologizing to some people. That apology eventually however, rather than demean the Church, actually strengthened her and endeared her to many. Hardly any other organization or country in the world has since showed such moral strength and courage to do the same. How I wish that such were more commonplace in today's world of hurts and injustice.