Misericordia et Misera

For those who may have missed it, Pope Francis issued an apostolic letter yesterday – the day (Feast of Christ the King) that marked the end of the Year of Mercy.

The title of the letter, Misericordia et Misera, comes from St. Augustine’s discussion of the Gospel account of Jesus’ meeting with the woman caught in adultery.  (John 8:1-11)  Here is what Pope Francis wrote about that encounter in his letter:

A woman and Jesus meet. She is an adulteress and, in the eyes of the Law, liable to be stoned. Jesus, through his preaching and the total gift of himself that would lead him to the Cross, returned the Mosaic Law to its true and original intent. Here what is central is not the law or legal justice, but the love of God, which is capable of looking into the heart of each person and seeing the deepest desire hidden there; God’s love must take primacy over all else. This Gospel account, however, is not an encounter of sin and judgement in the abstract, but of a sinner and her Saviour. Jesus looked that woman in the eye and read in her heart a desire to be understood, forgiven and set free. The misery of sin was clothed with the mercy of love. Jesus’ only judgement is one filled with mercy and compassion for the condition of this sinner. To those who wished to judge and condemn her to death, Jesus replies with a lengthy silence. His purpose was to let God’s voice be heard in the conscience not only of the woman, but also in those of her accusers, who drop their stones and one by one leave the scene. Jesus then says: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?… Neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on do not sin again.”  Jesus helps the woman to look to the future with hope and to make a new start in life. Henceforth, if she so desires, she can “walk in charity” (Eph 5:2). Once clothed in mercy, even if the inclination to sin remains, it is overcome by the love that makes it possible for her to look ahead and to live her life differently.

We can all use the reminder that it is love that makes possible healing and reformation.  Not threats, not fear, not punishment, but love freely offered.

Pope Francis reminds us in his letter that, although the Jubilee year is over, “the door of mercy in our heart continues to remain wide open.” and that “it is the road of mercy, on which we meet so many of our brothers and sisters who reach out for someone to take their hand and become a companion on the way.”

You can read the entirety of the letter here.

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