This blog started out as a collection of scripts for an online radio show of the same name. It riffed off of my 2004 book, Musings from the Christian Left, now republished as The Conscience of a Catholic Radical.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Divine Mercy

Sunday, I was on my way to St. Ann's Catholic Parish while putting together this column as I walked (so I got in during the first reading - should have walked faster).  Then I heard the Homily - it did not change what I said, but it did add a new perspective, which I share below.  We are a nice parish and you can find us online at

Divine Mercy is an interesting phrase and a bit redundant.  Everything about the Divine is Mercy and all Mercy is sourced in the Divinity.   So what is mercy?  Is it a parent who comforts you after a good thrashing?  It depends.  Was the punishment really essential for you to remember or was it for violating some arbitrary rule?  Or was there no thrashing at all, but only hurt caused by bad behavior?

Mercy is not just forgiveness for breaking a law seen as coming from God (but in reality is from man instead).  It is mercy as the law – a law in keeping makes life better – the yoke is easier and the burden lighter.  The letter from John in the second reading talks about loving the Lord by keeping his commandments.  In other places, John talks about how the commandment is to Love one another.   This sounds easier, but in fact is much harder than going to confession and enumerating dirty thoughts and lapses in Friday abstinence.

To love one another was shown in the first reading from Acts, where the Church had no poor because the rich gave all their wealth for all.  Nowadays it is the poor who give and the mega church minister or Catholic bishop who drives the town care and lives in a palace.  While there are certainly some priests and a pope who are an example of what the Church of Acts did, they are notable as the exception, not the rule.

The Gospel from John is interesting – it’s the Gospel of Peace, where Jesus gives the apostles the power to forgive sin. The interesting question is, is this a function of office or it is given to everyone?  Of course, if the latter, it’s harder for bishops and popes to sell indulgences or claim a monopoly on forgiveness, shared grudgingly with priests and not at all for the people to exercise.  Now that would be radical – if sins could be confessed to each other and considered forgiven.  Indeed, it would be in keeping with the stories of forgiveness, where to be forgiven at all, we must forgive.  We say it every day in the Our Father.  The story goes on to the next week, where Thomas (really Jude, brother of Jesus – called twin because they looked alike) could not get over the grief of his brother’s death until he saw – which Jesus immediately forgives while giving a blessing to those of us who have never seen him but seek his mercy.

On Sunday, Monsignor Mosley, the Pastor at St. Ann’s, where I am now again a parishioner had an interesting take on John’s Gospel, focusing on the term “Peace be with you”.  Was it Peace, and where were you guys last Friday night?  Or was it peace – everything is fine – even the fact that you were not there Friday night.  In short, it’s the latter and the homily explained it wonderfully.  If you missed it, you missed it.

Of course, one cannot but think of the Synod on the Family.  Will the Mercy written about by Cardinal Kasper stick to forgiveness of non-canonical second marriages (but not the gay ones) or will it go beyond the original message by the Cardinal and rethink the doctrine – not to give a free pass but to correct it when it is not an instrument of mercy.  When doctrine creates wrongs from a puritanical bias rather than accepting people as they are, whether seeking solace after a bad marriage or gay seeking companionship for life. Will the Synod fathers put their faith in canon law, as Cardinal Burke would counsel or in divine mercy, going even further than Cardinal Kasper and the Pope dared dream at the prompting of the Spirit.  We will certainly see.