On the surface, a decisive bustle carries the day. The speed of everything feels like an official sign of progress. After a while, the striving hardens into a myth of success or righteousness.
But it’s getting harder to sustain the story line. Beneath the shine, impossible to ignore, is evidence everywhere of something fragile and tormented — economic insecurity, racism, addiction rates, incarceration rates, poisons in soil and water, meanness.
Pope Francis looks around and says: Let’s show mercy. He has declared this the Year of Mercy. Why? “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded,” he says in a new book, “The Name of God Is Mercy.”
He speaks at a time when ideas about God are being re-conceived, abandoned or weaponized. Traditional ways of belief lose excitement. Intense loyalties gather around merely human figures — celebrities, soothsayers, kingpins of finance and illusion.“Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes it is not possible to cure them. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium. Relativism wounds people too …”
And an old suspicion still smolders — a religious and political suspicion of mercy itself. The word sounds too soft, implausible or liberal — isn’t God a God of judgment? A secret voice persists: We’re not good enough for mercy. As a Southern Protestant, I’ve heard this argument all my life.
The problem, says Francis, is that fewer people experience mercy concretely. They haven’t received enough of it or seen it motivating others. They can’t imagine it as a divine attribute. But they sense this deficit of mercy isn’t right. Something’s gone wrong in a world armed to the teeth.
Francis’ point is pragmatic. God’s mercy is real, but it arrives only by human hands. People (including non-believers) need confessors, individuals who will tenderly hear them. Everyone needs this. People “touch the flesh of Christ,” Francis says, when they encourage the unemployed, show patience with the annoying, shore up the damaged and lonely.
“We have received freely, we give freely,” he says.
The Year of Mercy ends Nov. 20. By then maybe a fund will quietly accumulate, a pool of spiritual resilience that the world can draw on, surprising itself, unaware of its source.
Says this pope, speaking to this moment: “Let us allow God to surprise us.”
Courtesy: Ray Waddle, Tennessean.