“The mercy of our God is infinite and indescribable” and where Jesus “proclaims the Gospel of the Father’s unconditional mercy to the poor, the outcast and the oppressed” that is “the very place we are called to take a stand,” Pope Francis told hundreds of cardinals, bishops and priests on Holy Thursday.
Celebrating his fourth Holy Week as Bishop of Rome, Francis reminded everyone present that “Jesus’ battle is not against men and women, but against the devil, the enemy of humanity.” He “does not fight to build power,” but “if he breaks down walls and challenges our sense of security, he does this to open the flood gates of that mercy which, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he wants to pour out upon our world.”
“We express the dynamism of this mystery as an ‘ever greater’ mercy, a mercy in motion, a mercy that each day seeks to make progress, taking small steps forward and advancing in that wasteland where indifference and violence have predominated,” he said in his unusually long homily at the Chrism mass in St Peter’s Basilica on March 24.
“This was the way of the Good Samaritan, who practiced mercy” he told them; and it is “the way of mercy that joins one small gesture to another, and without offending anyone’s fragility, it grows with each helpful act of love.” Indeed, “mercy restores everything; and it restores people to their original dignity.”
Speaking during a Mass in which all the priests present renewed their vows, Francis reminded them that God “has been merciful towards us” in the past, and by asking him to “reveal yet more of his mercy in the future” this “helps us to tear down those walls with which we try to contain the abundant greatness of his heart.”
“It is good for us to break out of our set ways—he told them—because it is proper to the Heart of God to overflow with tenderness, with ever more to give. For the Lord prefers something to be wasted rather than one drop of mercy be held back.”
Since becoming pope, Francis has repeatedly affirmed that “mercy” is at the heart of the Gospel preached by Jesus, and that “the name of God is mercy,” as he said in a recent book. He wants the church to “open the doors” of God’s mercy to all people, especially those who are poor, outcasts, discarded or excluded. He has written an Exhortation on the Family, due to be published by mid-April, which is expected to reflect this same merciful approach.
“As priests – he told them - we are witnesses to, and ministers of the ever-increasing abundance of the Father’s mercy; we have the rewarding and consoling task of incarnating mercy, as Jesus did, who ‘went about doing good and healing’ (Acts 10:38) in a thousand ways so that it could touch everyone.”
He drew attention in this Jubilee of Mercy to “two areas” in which “the Lord shows excess in mercy”: in encounter and forgiveness. And, he told them, “we” too should follow his example here and “not hesitate in showing excess.”
“As priests – Francis said - we identify with people who are excluded, people the Lord saves. We remind ourselves that there are countless masses of people who are poor, uneducated, prisoners, who find themselves in such situations because others oppress them.”
As pope, Francis is well aware that some in leadership positions in the church feel uncomfortable with this merciful-centered approach, and are not in accord with the direction he is taking. He knows too that a minority are not rowing with him, just as they did not row with Benedict XVI or John Paul II.
In his homily today he appeared to allude to this when he told the cardinals, bishops and priests present in the basilica, and the some 400,000 bishops and priests across the globe, that “each of us knows the extent to which we too are often blind, lacking the radiant light of faith, not because we do not have the Gospel close at hand, but because of an excess of complicated theology.”
“We feel that our soul thirsts for spirituality, not for a lack of Living Water which we only sip from, but because of an excessive ‘bubbly’ spirituality, a ‘light’ spirituality,” he stated.
Then returning to a theme that he has spoken about from his first days as pope, he told them, “We feel ourselves also trapped, not so much by insurmountable stone walls or steel enclosures that affect many peoples, but rather by a digital, virtual worldliness that is opened and closed by a simple click.”
Indeed, he said, “We are oppressed, not by threats and pressures, like so many poor people, but by the allure of a thousand commercial advertisements which we cannot shrug off to walk ahead, freely, along paths that lead us to love of our brothers and sisters, to the Lord’s flock, to the sheep who wait for the voice of their shepherds.”
The Argentine pope concluded his homily by telling bishops and priests in Rome and across the globe that “Jesus comes to redeem us, to send us out, to transform us from being poor and blind, imprisoned and oppressed, to become ministers of mercy and consolation.”
After the homily, Pope Francis blessed the three oils that will be used by bishops and priests in the diocese of Rome over the next year: the oil of catechumens, the oil of chrism, and the oil of the sick.
This evening, in another gesture of mercy, Francis will wash the feet of 12 asylum seekers at a center near Rome.