“Today is a time of mercy!” This was the parting message Pope Francis gave to the 270 synod fathers from some 120 countries at the closing Mass for the Synod on the Family in St. Peter’s Basilica, Oct. 25.
He has made this same declaration several times since his election as pope on March 13, 2013, but it took on special significance this Sunday, the day after the synod approved a final document that is centered on the theme of mercy and gives the pope leeway to apply this mercy, at his discretion, to the people in many complicated family situations worldwide.
When he first announced the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis linked it directly to the synod on the family. He will open the jubilee year at St. Peter’s on Dec. 8. He wants this jubilee to be an occasion in which pastors throughout the world can show God’s mercy to people in difficult situations, enabling struggling individuals and families to get a new start in life.
Francis spoke about mercy in his homily at the solemn sung Mass this morning, which was enriched by the singing of the Sistine Chapel Choir and attended by thousands of people, including the 270 synod fathers and the 48 other persons that had participated in the synod.
Taking his cue from the Gospel story in which a blind man called Bartimaeus cries out to Jesus to cure him, Francis explained the story and then went on to apply its message to the pastors of the church, both those present in the basilica and those whom they represent across the globe.
“Jesus is moved by [Bartimaeus’s] request and becomes involved in his situation. He is not content to offer him alms, but rather wants to personally encounter him,” Francis said. Jesus asks him what he wants and in this way “shows that he wants to hear our needs. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him.”
He recalled that Jesus, when he heard the blind man’s cry, he sent the disciples to call him and they did so telling the man, “Have faith, have courage.” Pope Francis reminded his audience that “only an encounter with Jesus gives a person the strength to face the most difficult situations.”
The disciples told Bartimaeus to “Rise!” Francis said. Indeed, “they did nothing other than repeat Jesus’ encouraging and liberating words, leading him directly to Jesus, without lecturing him.”
Pope Francis told the synod fathers that “Jesus’ disciples are called, especially today, to bring people into contact with the compassionate Mercy that saves.” Indeed, he said, “When humanity’s cry, like Bartimaeus’s, becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart.”
He reminded these pastors from all continents that “moments of suffering and conflict are for God occasions of mercy” and so “today is a time of mercy!” He told the synod fathers, who were listening attentively, that “those who follow Jesus” should beware of “temptations.” Today’s Gospel mentioned “at least two,” he noted.
First, “none of the disciples stopped, as Jesus did” when the blind man cried out, Francis said. Instead, “they continued to walk, going on as if nothing were happening. If Bartimaeus was blind, they were deaf: his problem was not their problem.”
This too “can be a danger for us, Francis said. Too often, we believe that “in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered,” Francis declared. But by acting in this way, then “just like the disciples, we are with Jesus but we do not think like him. We are in his group, but our hearts are not open. We lose wonder, gratitude and enthusiasm, and risk becoming habitually unmoved by grace. We are able to speak about him and work for him, but we live far from his heart, which is reaching out to those who are wounded.”
Francis called this first temptation “spirituality of illusion.” He said this means, “we can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see. We are capable of developing views of the world, but we do not accept what the Lord places before our eyes. A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts.”
He described the “second temptation” as that of “falling into a ‘scheduled faith.’ We are able to walk with the People of God, but we already have our schedule for the journey, where everything is listed: we know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother.” Consequently, he said, “whoever bothers us, or is not of our stature is excluded.”
Francis reminded the synod fathers, and those pastors whom they represent from countries around the world, that “Jesus, on the other hand, wants to include above all those kept on the fringes who are crying out to him.”
He recalled that after being cured the blind man “follows Jesus on his path. He did not only regain his sight, but he joined the community of those who walk with Jesus.”
The pope concluded his homily by thanking the synod fathers for having “walked together” with him in the synod, “with our eyes fixed on Jesus and on our brothers and sisters, in the search for the paths which the Gospel indicates for our times so that we can proclaim the mystery of family love.” As they prepared to return to their home countries, Francis encouraged them saying, “Let us follow the path that the Lord desires…never allowing ourselves to be tarnished by pessimism or sin” and “let us seek and look upon the glory of God, which shines forth in men and women who are fully alive.”