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Father Muench Says...

Mercy: defining attribute of our church

Aug. 31, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

Mercy – we hear a great deal about God’s mercy and our call to be a merciful people these present days. This is the Jubilee Year of Mercy as proclaimed by our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  The motto for this year Bishop’s Fund in our diocese is “Mercy in Motion.”  So, I thought that today I would write a bit on mercy.

First off, my meaning – mercy means many things – benevolence, forgiveness and kindness.  The very concept of a “Merciful God” appears in various religions, like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

So, I recently decided to reread Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book, “Mercy.”  Cardinal Kasper is a German Cardinal, now retired.  He is a learned theologian and an outstandingly pastoral Bishop.  I have read articles by Cardinal Kasper and actually heard him talk once at St. Mary’s Seminary. 

His book, “Mercy”, is interesting because it was written in 2012, before Pope Francis was elected Holy Father.  

However, his ideas prefigured Pope Francis’ vision of the Church’s mission of mercy.
Let me share a bit of Cardinal Kasper’s ideas from his book, “Mercy.”  He helps us realize the importance of mercy – God’s mercy for us through our Church today.  Cardinal Kasper begins his study by exploring Sacred Scripture to demonstrate to us how important this message of God’s mercy is.  Mercy is spoken of often by the Old Testament prophets and mercy is the central mission of Jesus in the Gospels.

And so, Cardinal Kasper reminds us that mercy is central to our Catholic Church today.  It must be an important part, a necessary part of the life of every Christian.  Christ’s Church, as a Church, must be founded on God’s great love for all – and so Christ’s Church is called to be a merciful and loving people. 

For Cardinal Kasper, mercy is God’s fundamental and defining attribute.

Cardinal Kasper writes of the Catholic Church as a Sacrament of Love and Mercy.  Jesus’ precept of mercy is not just applicable to the life of individual Christians but also for the Church as a whole.  The Church as the Body of Christ is a sacrament of the presence of Christ in the world.  Christ is the sacrament of mercy – a sacred sign of God’s great love for all people that should radiate to the whole world of the merciful love of God.

Jesus’ message of mercy is a powerful message.  Jesus’ message of mercy must be central to the teaching, the life and the mission of the Catholic Church.  It is sad to think that there are some who reproach the Church as not following God’s call to mercy.

Sadly, some seem to experience our Church as rigid and lacking in mercy. Now is the time for the leaders of our Church to powerfully emphasize that our Church will always mean mercy to all.

For that reason, at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII proclaimed that our Catholic Church must, above all, use the medicine of mercy.  Pope Francis truly understand how central and how powerful mercy is for the Church of Jesus Christ.  Nothing is more important for Pope Francis – his message to our world is “What can my Church do for you?”

Cardinal Kasper describes  Saint John Paul II’s emphasis is the Church’s task to give witness to divine mercy.  Cardinal Kasper sees that this will happen in a threefold manner:
(1) The Church must proclaim the mercy of God.  We experience this now in the importance of Pope Francis proclaiming this Jubilee Year of Mercy.  We must talk and teach and pray about God’s mercy in a special way throughout this Jubilee Year.

(2) The Church must concretely provide people God’s mercy in the sacrament of mercy, the sacrament of reconciliation.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of Penance; it is an important sacrament, a source of real happiness for us all especially in repentance of our sins.  I must write about confession more in the future.

(3) Finally, Cardinal Kasper writes, the Church must allow God’s mercy to appear and be realized in its concrete structures, its entire life, and even in its laws. 

I am certain that Pope Francis has already begun to demonstrate his efforts to encourage and insistence that our Church must become more merciful to the needs of its own people.    

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