God is mercy

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Thursday, April 10, 2014


POPE Francis has made mercy the touch stone of his radical and reforming papacy. He says: God is mercy. Days before his election as pope, Francis was given a book by his fellow Cardinal Walter Kasper from Germany.

The book describes mercy as the fundamental gospel concept – key of Christian life. It is very clear that this book has inspired Pope Francis right from the beginning of his papacy up to this time. The Pope was delighted and exclaimed: “Mercy is the name of our God, and without mercy we are lost.” Kasper explains in his book that mercy more than anything else expresses who God is.

This mercy of God, however, does not imply that God turns a blind eye to sin; He resolutely stands against evil. The Bible gives an emotional description to this by calling it ‘anger.’ In the Old Testament Yahweh is always angry when He sees that the Israelites make their own idols instead of worshipping Him in truth.

In the New Testament Jesus is angry time and again when He sees the hardheadedness and the legalistic attitude of the Pharisees and Scribes. Describing God as angry is simply a colorful way of saying that God totally repudiates evil. God’s holiness means that God is just; He rewards goodness and punishes evil. In other words God’s mercy does not clash with God’s justice. But in the same time, God holds back justice; He gives man the opportunity to repent.

In the New Testament Jesus does not simply speak about mercy: Jesus incarnates divine mercy, and opens its riches to everyone. Nobody is beyond redemption. In the New Testament there is also the Virgin Mary as a model of mercy. Mary lives mercy in such a unique and radiant way.

I believe Our Lady can inspire a new culture of mercy. Kasper in his book encourages us to conceive of mercy as a way of life, and not simply as an occasional act of kindness. For us Christians mercy should be our fundamental position toward others.

Pope Francis is a disarming witness to this message of mercy. For him to be merciful should be a normal attitude like it was for Jesus. We all desperately need to return to this normality. Kasper said that hearing the word ‘mercy’ changes everything. It is the best thing that we can hear: it changes the world. A culture of mercy changes everything.

Now it is important to mention here that God is not only mercy but God is also justice. If mercy is a way of life, justice should be for us also a way of life. A culture of justice is the opposite of a culture of impunity. And that is what our society shows today, a culture of impunity. People get angry at that. It drives you mad when you see that plain criminals like the Ampatuans continue to escape punishment because of manipulations with the law.

It drives you mad also when you see that honorable senators and congressmen get away unpunished for the pork barrel scam. And then there are the prominent businessmen like real estate developer Delfin Lee.

It drives you mad when you see that they don’t get punished for exploiting the poor and violating all kind of labor laws. Pope Francis again speaks of a ‘culture of comfort.’ This makes us ‘think only of ourselves and remain insensitive to the cries of other people.’ He adds: ‘In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference.’

Another issue is the RH Bill. While I was writing this column the High Court was set to issue on April 8 a decision on the constitutionality of the Reproductive Health bill. The bishops were pressuring the Supreme Court judges to vote against the RH bill because, they say, the bill is anti-life and pro artificial means of birth control.

You wonder why the Catholic bishops so vehemently oppose the RH Law that seeks nothing more than to slow down population growth and give the poor access to the means of birth control of their choice. I am happy that the Supreme Court has finally decided that the RH Law is not unconstitutional.

Pope Francis advises the bishops and priests to be pastors and shepherds to their flock instead of moralists and clericalists. For this Lenten Season Francis has some reflections on worldliness and the temptation to seek prestige and power through warring with others.

If religion has any advice to offer politics, it should be that battles hard-fought should be tempered by humility. Sometimes, though, it seems as if it is not the politicians learning such a lesson, but the leaders of faith who absorb some of the politicians’ dark practices.

[Email: nolvanvugt@gmail.com]

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on April 10, 2014.

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