Friday, June 17, 2016

God’s Justice is His Mercy, Not the Law: 'Misericordiae Vultus'

Misericordiae Vultus by Pope Francis
From Paragraph 20: God’s Justice is His Mercy, Not the Law
. . . Jesus speaks several times of the importance of faith over and above the observance of the law. It is in this sense that we must understand his words when, reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections to him, “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Faced with a vision of justice as the mere observance of the law that judges people simply by dividing them into two groups – the just and sinners – Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation. One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law. In an attempt to remain faithful to the law, they merely placed burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father’s mercy. The appeal to a faithful observance of the law must not prevent attention from being given to matters that touch upon the dignity of the person.
. . .  The rule of life for his disciples must place mercy at the centre, as Jesus himself demonstrated by sharing meals with sinners. Mercy, once again, is revealed as a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ mission. This is truly challenging to his hearers, who would draw the line at a formal respect for the law. Jesus, on the other hand, goes beyond the law; the company he keeps with those the law considers sinners makes us realize the depth of his mercy.
. . . [After his experience on the road to Damascus, St. Paul] places faith first, not justice. Salvation comes not through the observance of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, who in his death and resurrection brings salvation together with a mercy that justifies. God’s justice now becomes the liberating force for those oppressed by slavery to sin and its consequences. God’s justice is his mercy (cf. Ps 51:11-16).

Many times, I struggle with the doctrinally-focused attitudes of some Catholics to the point of considering other Christian faith traditions. I am a sinner and, although I continually try to imitate Christ, my life is imperfect.  Many of my life choices have not been in perfect conformity with Catholic doctrine. This is an issue for me, for I want to live honestly with God, and as a Catholic, I feel, many times, like I can’t. But Pope Francis turns the tables here (and in Amoris Laetitia).  Living in conformity with God’s will is recognizing that the Father’s justice lies in His mercy. It is not, as many in the Church want to purport, about the burdens and precepts of perfect doctrinal living, a legalism that is infectious among many traditionally-minded faithful. Being a faithful follower of Christ, therefore, is about our faith in Christ, our hearts being aimed at conforming to Jesus the best we can and know how. It is about what Jesuit priest and theologian Karl Rahner calls the “fundamental option” of our hearts, even when not in perfect conformity with doctrine, that is aimed at God’s love and mercy.