Tuesday, 1 April 2014
Getting to grips with Mercy
Pope Francis speaks often about this age being a time of mercy. But what Francis means and what others mean can be worlds apart. For some folk being merciful is rather analogous to the (fictional!) nurse who won’t require a post-operative patient to mobilise if it is painful; the (fictional) physician who won’t require the diabetic to take his insulin regularly because he ‘has a fear of needles’; the teacher who won’t require over-weight Johnny to do PT because it is too exhausting for him; the parent who doesn't require Johnny to do his homework because he wants to sit with mummy and watch TV. It will be obvious to anyone that none of these are merciful acts; they are indulgent acts which endanger the welfare of the patient, pupil and child. Yet this is the kind of mercy so many in today’s Church seem fixated on exercising: they won’t require the adulterer or active homosexual to give up their lifestyle if it’s too painful for them; they won’t require Confession from those who have missed Sunday Mass in case it gives the impression they are sinners. For such shepherds mercy means if the Faith is difficult to live out, find a way around so as to be “merciful as Christ is merciful”.
But that is not the kind of mercy we see demonstrated by Christ; Christ came to call sinners to change; He came to heal us, not to allow us to wallow in our destructive lifestyle choices. The nurse who does not require the post-op patient to mobilise leaves that patient in danger of DVT and death from Pulmonary Embolism; the physician who does not mandate a regular insulin regime leaves the patient in danger of physical death from the many complications of hyperglycaemia. Sadly, many of our shepherds are like our fictitious nurse, physician et al: they promote the kind of ‘mercy’ that facilitates sinful lifestyle choices –most probably because they don’t want to be judgemental. God preserve us from physicians who don’t want to judge what medicine is needed or confront us on lifestyle changes -and God preserve us from shepherds who don’t want to judge what lifestyle changes are needed. Such correction need not be done in harsh tones or cold language, but it certainly needs to be done. True mercy, be it from physicians or shepherds, must confront the soul, prescribe the necessary medicine/penance, and warmly, lovingly and consistently support souls in taking the medicine, while requiring the community give the same support.
While most shepherds are strong in condemning social evils which afflict the poor and disadvantaged, they can be very weak in making the necessary rebuke of personal evils such as contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity –they may even seek ways to justify and accommodate such evils. Question: How have we gotten into a situation where shepherds act in this indulgent manner rather than confront souls and prescribe the remedy? Answer: By the misapplication of “Do not judge”; by shifting its focus from persons to acts. Some shepherds seem happy to speak in the abstract and say contraception or a homosexual experience are morally wrong, but they back off from correcting such evils when they are a permanent lifestyle choice; rather, they seek to accommodate them ‘for pastoral reasons’. In this way they appear to uphold church teaching but they are not prepared to do so when the rubber hits the road. Recovery of the rightful, authentic application of “do not judge” is essential if souls are to be saved –including the souls of shepherds, who are charged by Christ with continuing His call to “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.