Wednesday greetings on a cold and snowy morning here in the Midwest.
In an interview in the Italian magazine Credere, published today, Pope Francis talks about the soon-to-be-upon-us Jubilee Year of Mercy. Some excerpts.
"It is obvious that today's world is in need of mercy and compassion, or rather of the capacity for empathy. We are accustomed to bad news, cruel news and the worst atrocities that offend the name and the life of God. The world needs to discover that God is the Father, that there is mercy, that cruelty is not the way, that condemnation is not the way, because it is the Church herself who at times takes a hard line, and falls into the temptation to follow a hard line and to underline moral rules only; many people are excluded."
When I read these words, I felt as if the pope were speaking directly into my own heart. I guess I have become accustomed to expecting bad news. I wake up each morning, check the news, wondering what latest atrocity has been committed by my human brothers and sisters upon one another. Here in Chicago, the Tribune newspaper each morning lists those who were killed or wounded overnight. They choose that word "wounded" as if the paper were reporting on war casualties. And I think the word is appropriate because Chicago is a place where war is being raged on many levels. I hold such hope in my heart that this Archdiocese will take up the mantle of mercy and put God's mercy in dialogue with the atrocities that occur here each night.
Pope Francis goes on.
"The image of the Church as a field hospital after a battle comes to mind here; it is the truth, so many people are injured and destroyed! . . . I believe that this is the time for mercy. We are all sinners, all of us carry inner burdens. I felt that Jesus wanted to open the door to His heart, that the Father wants to show us his innate mercy, and for this reason he sends us the Spirit . . . It is the year of reconciliation. On the one hand we see the weapons trade . . . the murder of innocent people in the cruelest ways possible, the exploitation of people, of children. There is currently a form of sacrilege against humanity, because man is sacred, he is the image of the living God. And the Father says, 'stop and come to me.'"
In the past, when I would hear words like "the weapons trade," or "the murder of innocent people," I would think that these terms were being used to name situations and places in far-flung parts of the world, where cruelty has become institutionalized, often in the name of God. Yet, what I am slowly coming to realize is that Pope Francis is talking about what goes on in my own city every day.
The "weapons trade" to which he refers has lots to do with the easy accessibility of firearms here in the Midwest, not just some weapons trade going on in foreign countries. And "the murder of innocent people" happens here, too. Just recently, a child was murdered in by gang members in a Chicago alley, apparently as a retaliation against that child's father, who was a member of a rival gang. "The murder of innocent people."
Against the backdrop of all of this, we have the words of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel appointed for this Wednesday of the First Week of Advent:
"Jesus summoned his disciples and said, 'My heart is moved with pity for the crowd.'"
A Year of Mercy? Absolutely needed. In my heart and in yours. In my city and in yours. In my country and in yours. I am going to try to make a difference, the "mercy difference" as best I can. Thank God for Pope Francis.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.