The True Mercy of Christ is the Real Promise of Sainthood | Dr. Leroy Huizenga | CWR
The Synod fathers face a choice between the empty moralism of liberal religion and the radical, transformative, and merciful commands of Christ
Pope Francis has made “mercy” the leitmotif of his pontificate, going so far as to declare a holy year of mercy as an extraordinary jubilee, beginning on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this December 8 and running to the feast of Christ the King on November 20, 2016.
And this is a jubilee with real teeth. It is no accident that Francis’ significant canonical reforms of the annulment process, issued for the Western Churches in the form of a motu proprio entitled Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus and designed to make the process more efficient in service of justice, truth, and mercy, take effect the same day the holy year of mercy commences.
But mercy nowadays is misunderstood. Not necessarily by the Holy Father, but, I think, certainly by some who would trade on Pope Francis’ popular persona to advance their own ideas about doctrine and practice under the banner of mercy. Pope Francis has repeatedly affirmed and defended fundamental Christian teaching on marriage, sex, and family; others employing the theme of mercy, not so much.
St. Thomas Aquinas, representative of the broader Catholic tradition, regards mercy as a true virtue (ST II-II.30.3) that involves “heartfelt sympathy for another's distress, impelling us to succor him if we can” (ST II-II.30.1). For Aquinas, of course, the virtue of mercy functions hand in hand with other human and theological virtues so that it serves salvation, the return of the creature to God the creator. Succoring the sinner in distress would involve setting him on the path of salvation.
Reducing mercy to laxity
In our contemporary situation, however, high-ranking prelates, some with serious theological training, seem bent on reducing mercy to laxity. Chesterton famously observed, “The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.” Mercy suffers this fate at present. It is pitted against justice, against discipline, against doctrine, against truth, even against what seems the obvious teaching of Jesus. How did we come to this point?
The answer is that for many, experience trumps revelation. Experience with fallen, fallible, frail human beings gives many clergy—including those who become theologians, bishops, and cardinals—deep sensitivity to the real pain people feel when others wound them, when they fail, when they feel the have nothing left. Life is hard, even in the modern age, and clergy have a genuine desire to alleviate emotional and spiritual suffering.
And so we have bishops, archbishops, and cardinals discussing openly how the Church might approach those they believe cannot live by the Church’s teaching.
Pause, and let that sink in.
On one hand, this attitude sounds compassionate, merciful, and missional. On the other hand, it involves the subtle assumption that the promises of Christ really aren’t for everyone, that sanctification isn’t possible, that conformity to the will of God and mind of Christ is the province of an elite.
The result is a two-tiered Christianity, in which a few people can live the Christian life fully as taught by Jesus and his Church, while most others cannot and are left mired in their sin, struggles, and failings, suffering the soft bigotry of the low expectations elite churchmen have for them.