True confession: I’ve got quite a way to go. My spirituality may be accurately described as a faith seeking justice. To me, the fact that God became human in Jesus unequivocally expresses what God has in mind for us. I quickly fall into a trap: thinking transformation of the world is my/our responsiblity rather than God’s doing!
We’ve all seen the bumper stickers: “If you want peace, work for justice!” The same is expressed by the southern Black Baptist pastor I often quote: “Sometimes our faith is so heavenly minded its no earthly good.”
God in Christ has no other purpose than to restore this creation to what God had in mind in the first place. Mature Christianity understands that we are designated as primary agents in the implementation of God’s plan. But, my recurring challenge is to align myself to God’s plan, not God to mine!
Today I am confronted — like smack-dab in my face — with the inadequacy of my way of seeing things. I’m long on the justice imperative — I really fall short when it comes to expressing God’s mercy. Honestly speaking, I’m fixated on my conception of “justice” and stingy with extending mercy (except when I am the recipient and the one in need of understanding or forgiveness).
Today Pope Francis proclaimed a “jubilee year” exhorting people like me — indeed the entire Catholic Church — to get with God’s program! We are to refashion ourselves as a people, not of judgment or condemnation, but of pardon and merciful love. True confession: this would require a much deeper change of my “standard operating procedure” than I’ve been willing to accept to date.
Francis names my challenge: “The temptation … to focus exclusively on justice made us forget that this is only the first, albeit necessary and indispensable step.” He may just as well have had me in mind when reminding us of Peter’s question about how many times its necessary to forgive. We all know the answer; I have perfected the practice of keeping it at arm’s length!
Francis acknowledges the Bible’s frequent use of the image of God as a judge. But he cautions, “Such a vision … has not infrequently led to legalism by distorting the original meaning of justice and obscuring its profound value.”
Francis explains, “Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation … One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law.”
And here’s something to mull over: “If God limited himself to only justice, he would cease to be God, and would instead be like human beings who ask merely that the law be respected.”
“In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us … and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.” Truth is, I’ve heard that so often and in so many ways its like water off a ducks back!
“The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn,” states the Pontiff. “If anyone wishes to avoid God’s judgment, he should not make himself the judge of his brother or sister.” Ouch!
The Pontiff (word means: bridge-builder) not only challenges us personally but exhorts the whole church to “become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons, and instills hope.”
Recalling the action of the Holy Spirit in Vatican II, Francis reminds, “The walls which too long had made the Church a kind of fortress were torn down and the time had come to proclaim the Gospel in a new way, … a new phase of the same evangelization that had existed from the beginning.”
Let’s be honest… this is pretty radical stuff! I thought Lent and all that “conversion” talk was finished for the year. If we really take this Holy Year talk to heart, it will require a complete re-boot of the way I live my faith. I won’t speculate what this might mean for “standard operating procedure” at your rank-and-file church down the street!
Change isn’t easy. I sort of like my well-worn faith-practice, thank you very much! I prefer the God I’ve created in my own image!
In this, I am grateful God’s justice is tempered by mercy!
Francis’s proclamation runs over 9,500 words. I acknowledge my dependence on two articles for papal quotes cited above. I am especially indebted to Joshua J. McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter [link] and to a lesser degree, Cynthia Wooden of the Catholic News Service [link]. I recommend both articles for excellent summaries which exceed what I have attempted here.