Posted on: 2016-11-25

Pope Francis’ pastoral grace

The recently-concluded Jubilee of Mercy could not have ended without something the spectacular for the Church to hold on to. Granted that the entire Jubilee was declared to bring back to the consciousness of all the spectacular fact of God’s mercy over all mankind which endures forever (Ps 136). Pope Francis is surely not one to let it all pass ordinarily. His Papacy, many say, has already been defined by the theme of mercy and compassion. What better way to confirm the fact than to extend a special grace of the Jubilee of Mercy, well beyond the formal tenure of the celebration! Priests, who had been specially allowed to give absolution for the sin of abortion during the Jubilee Year are now to continue doing so beyond the period of the Jubilee. Many believe that things will remain that way for as long as Francis is pope. Reactions in the Church are mixed. Some see this as enhancing God’s unending mercy. Others are worried that it might signify a watering down of the Church’s uncompromising teaching on abortion and the sanctity of human life.

Grave sin remains what it is

There is no controversy about where the Church stands on abortion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church is crystal clear on it. “Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion. This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable. Direct abortion, that is to say abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law” (CCC 2271). Pope Francis himself has affirmed that much. By her uncompromising stand the Church is consistent with her traditional teaching that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God. The Catechism explains further: “The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parent and the whole society. The inalienable right to life of every innocent human individual is a constitutive element of a civil society and its legislation” (CCC 2272-2273). This is a very important clarification for many people who call sin and crime by false, palatable names to the destruction of morality and values today.

Special priestly faculties enhance God’s mercy

In analyzing the Holy Father’s special permission for priests to directly forgive the sin of abortion one must see the true spirit of the Jubilee seeping through. It is a huge strategy to make the Jubilee of Mercy endure. Jubilees are essentially meant to liberate people (Lev 25:10) and this gesture facilitates the return of many to God in faith (Lk. 15:7). In Birmingham, United Kingdom, during the March for Life, 2016 I saw a hopeful sight. A “mercy bus” designed to offer the possibility of sacramental confession for those who would need it was parked in the square where the event was held. And many did take the opportunity!  “Reconciliation on wheels” is a strategy which emanated from Pope Francis’ call at the start of the jubilee that more opportunities be granted the faithful to reconcile with God through the sacrament. There has no doubt been a lot more excitement about confessions around the world since then. Who would doubt that our contemporary world needs more love, mercy and compassion to diffuse so much hatred, conflict and violence seen today among peoples? The longer such strategies of mercy last, then, perhaps the better for everyone. 

The family school of mercy

If Pope Saint John Paul II did so much in his life to highlight the culture of love, Pope Francis has surely stamped us with a culture of mercy. It is not the first time that this Pope has facilitated the welcome of the faithful in the Church. He already facilitated the marriage processes for Catholics who seek to rectify their marital relationships, granting special powers to Diocesan Bishops to resolve cases which would normally have required longer processes to manage. Just as well, for mercy and similar virtues find optimum breeding place in the family. Where else can anyone best learn the culture of love and mercy at the earliest stages of life? This must all be good news to those persons and organizations who work to strengthen marriage and the family all over the world. One of such organizations is the International Organization for Marriage, IOM.

The forthcoming forum on marriage

IOM is an initiative started privately 3 years ago and now comprises of more than 350 leaders of local and regional movements from over 50 nations who are committed to promoting and protecting marriage between one man and one woman. This pro-family organization is putting together a forum for the first time on African soil this year. It had been hosted in previous years in Washington DC and Paris with considerable success.  I had the honour of speaking at the forum in Paris and have also been invited to give a keynote address at the next one in Cape Town, South Africa in December 2016. The interest of the forum is to assemble resources and inspiration from all traditions and sources all over the world to strengthen the family. It is also to highlight and share those pristine values that marriage and family can best nurture and promote. With this convergence of interest sustaining Pope Francis’ jubilee of mercy will no doubt be one inspiration which the forthcoming forum will gladly embrace.