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.