Mercy In The Modern World


Cardinal Walter Kasper, whose new book, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to the Christian Life, is a favorite of Pope Francis, explains why mercy is central to the Christian understanding of God:

The doctrine on God was arrived at by ontological understanding—God is absolute being and so on, which is not wrong. But the biblical understanding is much deeper and more personal. God’s relation to Moses in the Burning Bush is not “I am,” but “I am with you. I am for you. I am going with you.” In this context, mercy is already very fundamental in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament is not an angry God but a merciful God, if you read the Psalms. This ontological understanding of God was so strong that justice became the main attribute of God, not mercy. Thomas Aquinas clearly said that mercy is much more fundamental because God does not answer to the demands of our rules. Mercy is the faithfulness of God to his own being as love. Because God is love. And mercy is the love revealed to us in concrete deeds and words. So mercy becomes not only the central attribute of God, but also the key of Christian existence. Be merciful as God is merciful. We have to imitate God’s mercy.

Why we need mercy now more than ever:

The twentieth century was a very dark century, with two world wars, totalitarian systems, gulags, concentration camps, the Shoah, and so on. And the beginning of the twenty-first century is not much better. People need mercy. They need forgiveness. That’s why Pope John XXIII wrote in his spiritual biography that mercy is the most beautiful attribute of God. In his famous speech at the opening of Vatican II, he said that the church has always resisted the errors of the day, often with great severity—but now we have to use the medicine of mercy. That was a major shift. John Paul II lived through the latter part of the Second World War and then Communism in Poland, and he saw all the suffering of his people and his own suffering. For him mercy was very important. Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was God Is Love. And now Pope Francis, who has the experience of the southern hemisphere, where two-thirds of Catholics are living, many of them poor people—he has made mercy one of the central points of his pontificate. I think it’s an answer to the signs of the times.

(Image: Jan Wijnants’s Parable of the Good Samaritan, 1670, via Wikimedia Commons)