Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Review: Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus (2015)

I recently finished reading Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  I can recommend it to any reader, Catholic or not.
I’ve read documents from Francis, Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  Pope Francis is a certainly easier to read than JP2, but perhaps not quite as polished as B16.  Regardless, he has a knack for clear expression which was on full display in this document.  One of the key passages in it would make sound reading for every priest, leader and lawyer in the world:
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.  But mere justice is not enough.  Experience shows that an appeal to justice alone will result in its destruction.  This is why God goes beyond justice with his mercy and forgiveness.  Yet this does not mean that justice should be devalued or rendered superfluous.  On the contrary: anyone who makes a mistake must pay the price.  However, this is just the beginning of conversion, not its end, because one begins to feel the tenderness and mercy of God.  God does not deny justice.  He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice. (p.32)

There’s an echo here of the sermons of St Bernard of Clairvaux, with their focus on inner feeling.  There’s also an implicit rejection of the narrowness of the sola scriptura / sola fide school(s) of thought, which reduces the Scriptures to a bundle of rules, and which limits God’s mercy to the single act of the Crucifixion.

This text gives a beautiful explanation of the much-misunderstood sacrament of Penance.  It explains that –
Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves.  We priests have received the gift of the Holy Spirit for the forgiveness of sins, and we are responsible for this.  None of us wields power over this Sacrament; rather we are faithful servants of God’s mercy through it.  Every confessor must accept the faithful as the father in the parable of the prodigal son: a father who runs out to meet his son despite the fact that he has squandered away his inheritance.  Confessors are called to embrace the repentant son who comes back home and to express the joy of having him back again.  Let us never tire of also going out to the other son who stands outside, incapable of rejoicing, in order to explain to him that his judgment is severe and unjust in light of the father’s boundless mercy (p.27)
There’s much in this Bull of Indiction to admire (including its style and relative brevity).  Certainly if one wanted a text to explain to someone what Catholics believe, this would be a good place to start.

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