Last December 8th on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception Pope Francis led the Church in the holy Year of Mercy, a time of grace, peace, conversion and joy. This Holy Year will conclude on Sunday, 20 November 2016, the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe and living face of the Father’s mercy. It is meant for everyone: people of every age, from far and near. The Holy Door is now open in Rome and in all the dioceses of the world. As Pope Francis tells us “There are no walls or distances which can prevent the Father’s mercy from reaching and embracing us”.
As a starting point for our spiritual participation in this Holy Year, Pope Francis offers us to go back to the Encyclical ” Dives in Misericordia ” which saint John Paul II gave us, at the very beginning of his ministry as successor of Peter. It is a deep, strong and structured meditation on God’s mercy, embodied and personified in Jesus Christ. John Paul II shows us how Jesus can take us in his merciful dynamism to enable us, in our turn, to enter into merciful love, and to become testimonies and agents of God’s merciful love.
Pope Jean Paul II places his teaching in today’s world, and for today’s world, a world which tends to forget God’s mercy and even to reject it, because it has reduced it to a kind of depressing caricature of easy and condescending devotion and powerless sentimentality.
Jean Paul II wants to provoke in this world a surge: that of tenderness against the actual sad background of fierce individualism, and harshness of heart. The settlings of scores in the name of justice are doomed to a dead end. This world shivers with cold, with fear, with anxiety, with self-oriented protests and claiming without the warmth of mercy.
” In this way, in Christ and through Christ, God also becomes especially visible in His mercy” (Dives in Misericordia n°2). Not only Jesus speaks about it and explains it by means of images and parables, but above all he embodies it and personifies it. He is himself, in a sense, the mercy. For who sees it and finds it in Him, God becomes “visible” as the Father “rich in mercy “(Ep 2, 4).
In the center of this teaching stands the parable of the “prodigal son “.
The younger son who takes his part of the inheritance and goes away: he is the man of all times, the one who does not know that he has a Father. By leaving, the younger son has voluntarily lost his dignity of son. But he does not realize it: even as he begins to think about a coming back home, his mind still remains at the material level, that is to get bread in abundance. Nevertheless, behind the words, begins to emerge in his conscience what is his actual drama: the drama to have lost his dignity, and the waste that this has done.
At the center of the parable is the relation between justice and love, which shows itself as mercy. If the Father is just, and only just, he will accept the apologies of the son and will reinstate him as one of the workers of his domain, with a salary and no more. But the Father is merciful: what He wants it is to restore his dignity to the son, to make him realize that he is a son. The true mercy allows the person to recover dignity, to be “found again”, it” restores to value”, it promotes. (Dives in Misericordia, n°6)
“The Church lives an authentic life when she professes and proclaims mercy – the most stupendous attribute of the Creator and of the Redeemer- and when she brings people close to the sources of the Savior’s mercy, of which she is the trustee and dispenser” (Dives in Misericordia, n°13)
Merciful love, in reciprocal relationships, “is never a unilateral act or process”.” Even in the cases in which everything would seem to indicate that only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking…in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary”. (Dives in Misericordia n°14)
If bilaterality is not there, we are not yet in merciful love: it is necessary to purify our intention: because “an act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him”. (Dives in Misericordia n°14).
This teaching of Saint John Paul II is important for the Christian physician, who wants to “enter in mercy” on a professional level, in this Year of Mercy. He has first to go to God’s mercy, to experience himself/herself God’s mercy, recognizing failures, human limits, the difficulties at time to combine a good quality medical care on one side, and a human touch on the other side, when dealing with patients. The sacrament of reconciliation is the way Christ offers to receive God’s mercy, to get into God’s mercy in order to become, in turn, merciful. But the mercy which the physician may provide that way to his/her patients cannot be reduced to a kind of a one-way charity, falling from the heights of his/her professional-social rank to the lower condition of a patient who depends on his/her good grace. Mercy for the Christian physician must be a state of mind, in which the dignity of the patient to preserve or to restore comes first. However, the relationship patient-physician seems to stand on an unequal basis: the physician is the one who gives, the patient is the one who receives and this does not facilitate the two way relationship which should characterize true mercy, according to saint John Paul II. But the holy Pope tells us that this situation of apparent inequality does not matter for mercy. If we enter actually through prayer and penance in the domain of God’s mercy, if we recognize the dignity of the patient and try to respect or to restore it when dealing with him, then we will receive from the patient, in term of spiritual gifts, if our heart is open to it. And then we will be in the domain of true mercy.
Christ “knocks at the door of our heart, without forcing our freedom, but inviting us to open to God’s mercy in order to become mercy, around us.
Fr. Jacques Suaudeau
Ecclesiastical Assistant FIAMC