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.

Today we had an RCIA retreat day at the University of St. Thomas for our nine catechumens and candidates.  Our focus was on Catholic prayers and devotions.  I invited several of our seminarians, peer ministers and other members of our St. Thomas Office of Spirituality staff to present on a number of prayers and devotions.  We talked about devotions such as Stations of the Cross, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and Adoration, prayers such as the Memorare and the St. Francis Breastplate, and modes of prayer like Lectio Divina.

Why focus an RCIA retreat day on prayers and devotions? For this simple reason: Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, is not about giving intellectual assent to a checklist of beliefs. Rather, what Christ seeks from those who would call themselves his disciples is a fundamental transformation of heart and mind – a transformation that changes everything about who we are in the world. Jesus’ teaching of the Beatitudes can lead to no other conclusion: poverty of spirit, purity of heart, meekness, and the rest, are qualities we are asked to embrace in our hearts, not merely ideas to which we give intellectual assent. And they are qualities that arise through a deep love relationship with God.

This is something that I appreciate even more after my years as a Buddhist, which deepened my appreciation of the need for experiential knowledge. The emphasis on experiential knowledge has convinced me of the primacy of relationship with God over rules as a vehicle for personal transformation. If I am convinced to the depth of my being that I am the beloved of God and if I am deeply in love with that God, that will be manifest in the person I am in the world. Adhering to God’s law flows naturally out of relationship, resulting not from forced obedience to externally imposed rules but as a consequence of our recognition of our essential nature as the beloved of God.

My goal in preparing people to enter the Church is not to give people what they need to “check-the-b0x” so that they can call themselves Catholic and plop themselves in a pew once a week at Mass.  Instead, my hope is to deepen their relationship with Christ, as well as the Church.  As I often quip: Conversion is an experience of the heart, not of the head. Hence our focus on prayer.

I just came from the Prayer for Healing in Our Community and Our Nation we just held in the Chapel of St. Thomas More on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

After the Call to Prayer by our University President (who later offered some remarks about the Catholic Social Thought principles of human dignity and solidarity), we listened to a taped portion of Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream Speech.

My contribution to the service was to read an excerpt from Santideva’s Bodhicaryavatara (A Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life).  It expresses, more poetically than I could, an aspiration to work on behalf of those who are in need.

May I be a doctor and the medicine
And may I be the nurse
For all sick beings in the world
Until everyone is healed.

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute;
May I turn into all things they could need
And may these be placed close beside them.

May I be a protector for those without one.
A guide for travellers on the way;
May I be a bridge, a boat and a ship
For all who wish to cross the water.

May I be an island for those who seek one
And a lamp for those desiring light,
May I be a bed for all who wish to rest
And a slave for all who want a slave.

May I be a wishing jewel, a magic vase,
Powerful mantras and great medicine,
May I become a wish-fulfilling tree
And a cow of plenty for the world.

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

And until they pass away from pain
May I also be the source of life
For all the realms of varied beings
That reach unto the ends of space.


People who have heard me speak or who are long-time readers here know that I am a big fan of Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk.  They also know that I believe Timothy Radcliffe, OP, is absolutely correct when he says that hope is the central gift Christianity has to offer to the world.

People define hope differently.  Today I came across this expression of what hope means offered by Brother David in his Gratefulness the Heart of Prayer.

Hope looks at all things the way a mother looks at her child, with a passion for the possible. That way of looking is creative. It creates the space in which perfection can unfold. More than that, the eyes of hope look through all imperfections to the heart of all things and find it perfect. The eyes of hope are grateful eyes. Before our eyes learned to look gratefully at the world, we expected to find beauty in good looking things. But grateful eyes expect the surprise of finding beauty in all things.

Let us never lose our passion for the possible, allowing the space in which perfection can unfold.

It is still a few weeks (but not much more!) before the beginning of Advent.  Yet, today seems like a good day to share the words of Daniel Berrigan’s Advent Credo, from his Testimony: The Word Made Flesh.  Read it.  Pray It.  Sing It.  But most of all, Believe It.

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—

This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

Believe It.

If Not You, Then Who?

The election is over.  Whether you voted for him or not, whether you like it or not, Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.  So let’s put campaign rhetoric aside here.

Over the past 48 hours, there have been numerous reports of bigotry and hate crimes.  Racist graffiti in schools that include “whites only” on bathroom doors, chants of “build the wall” to Mexican students, defacement of Muslim prayer spaces, not to mention physical attacks.  I have seen firsthand in my students and in friends of my daughter the suffering and fear these actions create.  (We had a rally and march on our campus today in response to racist graffiti outside one of our dorms the other night.)

This kind of behavior MUST be condemned by all of us – Democrat and Republican, men and women, whites and people of color, Christians and Muslims and Jews.  And those of us who are privileged – who are not the targets of these attacks – MUST be vocal in our opposition and generous in our support.  We must stand up for those being targeted, whoever is the source.

I want to underscore whoever is the source.  I have seen people on Facebook the past two days suggesting maybe the graffiti is being created by Clinton supporters to make it look like it is Trump supporters.  Whether you find that fanciful or plausible, I don’t care.  The harm that is created has nothing to do with that.

If you see hatred, speak up.  Let those who are the objects of hateful attacks know you stand with them.

If not you, then who?

If not you, then who?

The Weekly Manna speaker at the University of St. Thomas’s School of Law Weekly Manna gathering yesterday a noon was my colleague Lyman Johnson.  He titled his reflection Bridging the Otherness of Others, with an alternative title that asked Is Empathy Really Possible?

Lyman began his reflection with the reality that we always see another’s situation from our own vantage point.  He quoted something William Ernest Hocking said once in reference to his wife: “How would it seem if my mind could but once be within thine; and we could meet and without barrier be with each other?”  Lyman suggested the line captured a sense of both yearning and failure: a desire to experience the world as another experiences it, and an appreciation of an ultimate inability to do so.

He then talked about how we might bridge that otherness and see as antoher person sees. A couple of observations based on his remarks.

First, empathy and sympathy are too different things.  Sympathy – feeling sorry for another – is good, but it is distancing.  It does not involve my having to really see from the other person’s standpoint.  In fact, most often our sympathy comes from our own feelings about another’s situation.  Empathy is a more unitive feeling.

Second, I think Lyman is correct that too often we equate our own view of the world as being the world.  I think the first step to empathy is simply being cognizant of the fact that my view of the world is precisely that – one view, a view that does not represent the totality of truth (although one hopes it contains some truth).

Third, while we can never fully see from the mind and eyes of another, we can be open to hearing others talk about their experience and to using our imagination to try to understand their feelings and experiences.  That we can’t achieve a Vulcan mind-meld that would allow us fully into another’s mind and experience, we can work at greater empathy.  And our world needs us to develop greater empathy.



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