In an interview conducted by the Director of Civiltà Cattolica Father Antonio Spadaro, SJ, the Holy Father Pope Francis defines himself as a sinner looked upon with mercy by God. I think that each one of us, could say the same thing about oneself; still more each priest could find in it his essence; the call of God is mysterious and at the same time the result of mercy; who would dare to take the credit and dignity of his own vocation? Everything in the life of the priest speaks of mercy.
His ministry aims to produce and multiply mercy. How many times have we heard that the priest in the confessional has to let people experience mercy?
Has by any chance the teaching of the Church changed, since not much is said of God’s justice (and even less of His anger)?
This year I made the resolution to investigate this topic more thoroughly; I felt the urgency to answer to these questions which often weigh on the minds of believers, especially of those whose catechetical formation goes back to before the Second Vatican Council.
A prayer in the liturgy has offered me the key to solve the dilemma: “O Lord you manifest your power especially through your mercy and your forgiveness…”. Why do we say that the omnipotence of God is manifested especially through mercy and forgiveness?
“Merciful” is an attribute of God; according to St. John Paul II, it is His greatest attribute.
Through mercy, God re-creates in the penitent the capacity to love.
Through sin we lose God’s grace. Mercy restores in the human soul of the capacity to love.
The Son of God taking upon himself the sin of mankind accomplished a new creation: therefore humanity regained the ability to respond to God’s love. At this point let us ask ourselves: what is justice then? We know from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (# 1807) that the virtue of justice consists in giving to each one his own. It should not be surprising therefore that justice and mercy coincide: the more I sin the more I need mercy. This is so exactly because of justice.
Once I receive mercy, I am re-established in my ability to love. Love is dynamic and performs works: that’s why in this jubilee year we are invited to discover the works of mercy. Mercy becomes tangible, concrete: the penitent is now sensitive to human needs and develops an attitude of caring. The works of mercy are the external manifestation of this newness of life.
This beautiful virtuous circle is precisely the specific ministry of forgiveness granted to the priest.
When we speak of letting people experience God’s mercy, we do not imply that they should not be warned about the reality of sin; rather, we invite them to become aware of the effects of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, so that they, in turn, will choose to perform works of mercy.
The justice of God urges the priest to give greater mercy to those who have sinned more precisely because justice demands that everyone be given his due.
Therefore God is supremely just, because He is supremely merciful. Justice and mercy therefore coincide in God…
But what about God’s wrath then?
The wrath of God is for our salvation: it describes our God who gets tired of evil in the world and intervenes to introduce his grace. God is not against the sinner but against sin and He teaches us to do the same.
The priest, more than any baptized person must profess faith in God’s mercy; having experienced in his person the mercy of God, he needs to pass it on to his flock. He must beg and pray for mercy. That is why the main “action” of the priest is the Eucharist, a thanksgiving for the immeasurable gift of mercy.
How can the priest be able to embody God’s mercy? Strictly speaking, only Jesus Christ can really be a Christian; so then the priest is called to let Jesus take possession of himself, to make him another Christ. The priest devotes time and attention to the celebration and contemplation of the Eucharist in order to be able to say with St. Paul: “it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20)
Since Christ is the only “true Christian”, I try to give Him the opportunity to transform me in Him, through a more committed and more frequent participation to the sacrament of reconciliation and to the sacrifice of the Mass. When I am in line to receive the body of Christ I will repeat the following prayer: “Jesus I come to you in order to become you”.