Bishop Mark Davies on Mercy & Pope Francis

The Rt. Rvd. Mark Davies, 11th Bishop of Shrewsbury.
On Saturday afternoon, Pope Francis proceeded with the presentation of the official Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), set to begin December 8. The purpose of this special Jubilee year is to highlight Christian teaching on God’s mercy that the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective…opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. The wonderful Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury Diocese has struck while the iron is hot, with this brilliant Pastoral Letter, in which he does just that. I have reproduced the text below in red, along with my own thoughts on it in black.

My dear brother and sisters,
I write to you on this Divine Mercy Sunday with the happy news that Pope Francis formally announces today a “Holy Year of Mercy” to begin on 8th December 2015 under the patronage of Mary, the Mother of Mercy. The message of mercy has been central to Pope Francis’ pontificate, as it was to that of Saint John Paul II who inaugurated this Sunday after Easter as Mercy Sunday and who canonized the Polish visionary of God’s mercy, Saint Faustina.
As we prepare for this Holy Year, it is important to remember God’s mercy is his unfailing attitude and actions towards the least deserving, and especially the spiritually poor. Mercy never abandons us in the misery of our sins by pretending sin doesn’t matter. This is not the mercy of God. We may easily give up on each other and believe ourselves incapable of the call to holiness; but God never ceases to call us and to offer us his grace which is “the free and undeserved help that God gives to those who respond to his call” (CCC 1996). In the Gospel we see how Christ does not give up on Saint Thomas, despite all of his refusals to accept Divine mercy (cf. Jn. 20: 19-31). Likewise, Our Lord will never cease to call each of us to rise again from wherever sin has brought us down.
This makes me think of the film The Mission especially the redemption/ penance seen:


Robert De Niro plays a mercenary and slaver, Rodrigo Mendoza, who makes his living kidnapping natives and selling them to nearby plantations, including the plantation of the Spanish Governor Cabeza (Chuck Low). Mendoza subsequently finds his fiancee (Cherie Lunghi) and his younger half-brother Felipe (Aidan Quinn) in bed together. He kills Felipe in a duel. Although he is acquitted of the killing by Cabeza, Mendoza spirals into depression. Father Gabriel (Jeremy Irons) visits him and challenges Mendoza to undertake a suitable penance. Mendoza accompanies the Jesuits on their return journey, dragging a heavy bundle containing his armor and sword up the waterfall. When one of the Missionaries can take it no longer, he cuts Mendoza's burden away, but Mendoza feels in his heart that he has not suitably paid for his sins and stoicly retrieves the bundle and starts the climb once more. After initially tense moments upon reaching the outskirts of the natives' territory, though they recognise him, the natives embrace a tearful Mendoza and cut away his heavy bundle.

What strikes me about this scene is Mendoza's own self-knowledge; that his penance must meet his sin in his own heart for him to be able to forgive himself. God's mercy abounds, but penance is about a change of heart, and so remains important:
"Jesus' call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, "sackcloth and ashes," fasting and mortification, but at the conversion of the heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance." ~ CCC 1430
Bishop Mark continues... 
Our Christian life begins with an act of mercy, an act of rescue in Baptism. And this work of rescue becomes the pattern of our life in Christ. Since our Christian lives are always lived at a crossroads, the Catechism describes: “There are two ways: the one of life, the other of death”’ (CCC 1696). In the readings at Mass today Saint John tells us that loving God is keeping his commandments “and his commandments are not difficult, because anyone who has been begotten by God has already overcome the worldthis is the victory over the world – our faith” (I John 5:3-4). The Church always puts before us the distinction between the way of Christ leading to life and the false path which leads to death. However, God’s mercy does not abandon us even if we follow the lure of the false path. His mercy goes before us; it also follows us, as Saint Augustine taught. This call is compared in the Catechism to ‘Jesus’ look of infinite mercy’ that ‘drew tears of repentance from Peter’. It is this gaze of love that leads each of us through a process of ‘uninterrupted’ conversion as God makes our hearts new (see CCC 1428-1432). The Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation entrusted to the Church on Easter day is the merciful means by which we continue to choose life and bring all of our unruly thoughts, words and actions into conformity with Christ. We must give thanks today for this great Sacrament of Mercy!

This is awesome. It is God's love for us that draws us to repent. Isn't that true in many of our relationships? We can exchange harsh words and they only serve to intensify the polemic, but when harsh words reach their intended mark, when they wound the heart, when they draw sorrow from our victim, when they cause pain, it is this look which can draw us to repent and to regret our hasty actions; our "unruly thoughts, words and actions". Think of this in the context of the crucifixion: do we see an angry God, killing His only Son to pay a blood debt for mankind? Or do we see a merciful, crucified God who looks with love on angry men, so furious with His rejection of their violent aspirations that they beat him almost to death, then nail him to a tree?
The Father of Mercies continues to rescue us and helps us conform our thoughts, our words and our actions to the life of his Son, since it is only in this Divine life that we can ultimately find happiness. At the same time the Church teaches us how the gift of the Holy Spirit ‘renews us interiorly…’ and ‘enlightens and strengthens us to live as “children of light” through “all that is good and right and true”’ (CCC 1695). Mother Church also sets before us a well-established path so we may unite ourselves to Christ and follow this way of mercy: the path is called the ‘works of mercy.’ The works of mercy help us respond to the generous mercy of God. Many of us will have been taught them from our earliest years and we will return to them in the Holy Year ahead. The seven corporal works of mercy are: 1. Feed the hungry.
2. Give drink to the thirsty.
3. Clothe the naked. 4. Shelter the homeless.
5. Visit the sick.
6. Visit the imprisoned. 7. Bury the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy are: 1. Counsel the doubtful.
 2. Instruct the ignorant.
 3. Admonish sinners. 
4. Comfort the afflicted. 
5. Forgive offences.
 6. Bear wrongs patiently. 
7. Pray for the living and the dead. These works mark-out the path by which we must each seek to be merciful ‘as our Father is merciful’ (Lk 6:36). On this Sunday of Divine Mercy – as we look forward to the Holy Year of Mercy – may we know in our lives the mercy of God and be able to wholeheartedly repeat that simple prayer of Saint Faustina: “Jesus, I trust in you.”
Wishing you the great joy of Easter,
+ Mark
Bishop of Shrewsbury

Thank you Bishop Mark for this wonderful exposition of the faith as it relates to the mercy of God. I certainly found it nourishing and invigorating as we await the beginning of the year of mercy.

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