This is my first attempt at significantly shorter blog posts. I hope it might make it easier for readers. John
I’ve all been reading so much lately about crises and polarizations in our world (including the Catholic world). And about rising levels of both anger and depression. So it was good news that Regis University recently hosted a very well attended symposium on Pope Francis’ vision for a suffering world.
Speakers and panel addressed Francis’ writings on family life, on mercy, on poverty and immigration, on prayer. The entire freshman class heard former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter along with a theologian and an economist comment on Francis’ challenging words about our environmental crisis. Ritter said that the Pope’s Laudato Si’ is a letter to all of us and urged students to read it.
As a retired Regis faculty member (Religious Studies) and part of the three-day conference audience, I came away both very challenged and broadly hopeful.
Neither Francis in his writings and travels, nor the conference speakers, underestimate the crises and challenges which elsewhere provoke such angers and such depression. If anything, the speakers – mainly theologians (increasingly laity, women as much as men), but also two bishops and folks from other professions – unfolded the many dimensions of crisis which we face. And they did not ignore rising Catholic anger and deep dismay about the Church’s sexual abuse crisis.
Yet all returned in a variety of ways to Francis’ overarching call for mercy – not as passive sentiment but as active virtue. Mercy as a verb or “mercifying” as one speaker put it. For mercy, as the Pope understands it (and as speakers emphasized), means going into the streets of our world, even if that means getting muddied by people’s suffering and by the mess of conflict and criticism and even violence. (Francis canonized the martyred Oscar Romero, quite symbolically for the symposium on its final day.)
For Francis, active mercy especially means solidarity with immigrants and refugees and the poor, but also reaching out to the angry and depressed, and to those deeply polarized by our various cultural and political wars. It also means speaking critical truth to power (as Francis did a few years ago before the deeply polarized US Congress) and crying out for justice. Yet always by seeking dialogue and reconciliation. And by suffering insult and the injury of false accusation (as Francis has recently).
As I’ve already said, I came away both deeply moved and very challenged, but with chastened and realistic hope, not just sentimental piety.
4 thoughts on “Pope Francis at Regis — Challenge and Hope”
John, mercy, defined as helping the needy, confronts two obstacles. The first is nihilism. There’s too much to be done and our efforts will be wasted anyway. The second is totalitarianism. The only way to get things done is by force, a dictatorship of the proletariat. The Christian meets these obstacles with faith that it is the Lord’s work that he/she participates in. The Lord takes the loaves and fishes we offer and multiplies their effect. And God does this while respecting our freedom and the providence of time.
Dorothy Day was confronted with the apparent futility of her efforts at helping the outcasts and the poor, many of whom I presume were immigrants. She faced this difficulty by entering into the spirituality of Theresa of Lisieux. Theresa taught her that one’s slightest efforts, done in faith and love, are always fruitful.
Rhett, thanks for your thoughts. I’ve been re-reading Bernanos’ “Diary of a Country Priest” which has similar reflections on tyranny (the Russian revolution’s “forced mercy”) and nihilism. But the book is primarily a book about real mercy, in many concrete situations and words and actions — not about some sentimental mercy.
I reread “The Diary” a few years back. The example of mercy which strikes home is the priest’s relationship with the girl in his catechism class. She really is a study in meanness, perhaps quintessential feminine meanness. I understand she could be experiencing pre-pubescent stirrings. But here’s where mercy kicks in. The priest could have come down on her with rage but, if memory serves, tries to understand and “let her off the hook”. That letting off the hook seems to me at the heart of mercy. it contrasts with a rigorous justice approach. it also differs with kindness. It is a proper response if the mercy will have a more beneficial effect than strict justice. What I mean is that the priest must intuit that coming down hard on the girl’s ploys will be counterproductive. Mercy however will appeal to her heart.
I suspect your application here to Francis’ encouragement of mercy is the overall effect of the non-judgemental attitude and availability of the priest to his parishioners. I agree this is a great image of God’s mercy.
It would be interesting to compare the Catholic milieu of Bernano’s “Diary” with Mauriac’s “Woman of the Pharisees”.
Rhett, have not read Mauriac’s “Woman” but agree about the country priest’s mercy for the young girl. I recommend even more the words Bernanos has the priest think as he is listening to the atheist Doctor Delbende’s anguished critique of the Christian response to injustice. At the top of p. 76 in my 1970 Macmillan pb. edition.