A new apostolic letter has just been published, entitled“Misericordia et misera” (or Mercy and misery). In the letter, Pope Francis introduces the World Day of the Poor, writes about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which has just come to an end, and considers the role of mercy in our future. Below is an extract from the letter. You can read the whole letter by clicking the link at the end of the page.
The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open. We have learned that God bends down to us (cf. Hos 11:4) so that we may imitate Him in bending down to our brothers and sisters. The yearning of so many people to turn back to the house of the Father, Who awaits their return, has also been awakened by heartfelt and generous testimonies to God’s love. The Holy Door that we have crossed in this Jubilee Year has set us on the path of charity, which we are called to travel daily with fidelity and joy. 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.
The desire for closeness to Christ requires us to draw near to our brothers and sisters, for nothing is more pleasing to the Father than a true sign of mercy. By its very nature, mercy becomes visible and tangible in specific acts. Once mercy has been truly experienced, it is impossible to turn back. It grows constantly and it changes our lives. It is an authentic new creation: it brings about a new heart, capable of loving to the full, and it purifies our eyes to perceive hidden needs. How true are the words of the Church’s prayer at the Easter Vigil, after the reading of the creation account: “O God, who wonderfully created human nature and still more wonderfully redeemed it”.
Mercy renews and redeems because it is an encounter between two hearts: the heart of God who comes to meet us and a human heart. The latter is warmed and healed by the former. Our hearts of stone become hearts of flesh (cf. Ezek 36:26) capable of love despite our sinfulness. I come to realize that I am truly a “new creation” (Gal 6:15): I am loved, therefore I exist; I am forgiven, therefore I am reborn; I have been shown mercy, therefore I have become a vessel of mercy.
17. During the Holy Year, especially on the “Fridays of Mercy”, I was able to experience in a tangible way the goodness present in our world. Often it remains hidden, since it is daily expressed in discreet and quiet gestures. Even if rarely publicised, many concrete acts of goodness and tenderness are shown to the weak and the vulnerable, to those most lonely and abandoned. There are true champions of charity who show constant solidarity with the poor and the unhappy. Let us thank the Lord for these precious gifts that invite us to discover the joy of drawing near to human weakness and suffering. I also think with gratitude of the many volunteers who daily devote their time and efforts to showing God’s presence and closeness. Their service is a genuine work of mercy, one that helps many people draw closer to the Church.
18. Now is the time to unleash the creativity of mercy, to bring about new undertakings, the fruit of grace. The Church today needs to tell of those “many other signs” that Jesus worked, which “are not written” (Jn 20:30), so that they too may be an eloquent expression of the fruitfulness of the love of Christ and the community that draws its life from him. Two thousand years have passed, yet works of mercy continue to make God’s goodness visible.
In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life.
To conclude, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value. Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable”.
19. Many concrete signs of mercy have been performed during this Holy Year. Communities, families and individuals have rediscovered the joy of sharing and the beauty of solidarity. But this is not enough. Our world continues to create new forms of spiritual and material poverty that assault human dignity. For this reason, the Church must always be vigilant and ready to identify new works of mercy and to practise them with generosity and enthusiasm.
Let us make every effort, then, to devise specific and responsible ways of practising charity and the works of mercy. Mercy is inclusive and tends to expand in a way that knows no limits. Hence we are called to give new expression to the traditional works of mercy. For mercy overflows, keeps moving forward, bears rich fruit. It is like the leaven that makes the dough rise (cf. Mt 13:33), or the mustard seed that grows into a tree (cf. Lk 13:19).
We need but think of one corporal work of mercy: “to clothe the naked” (cf. Mt 25:36,38,43,44). This brings us back to the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve realise that they are naked and, hearing the Lord approaching, feel shame and hide themselves (Gen 3:7-8). We know that God punished them, yet he also “made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). He covered their shame and restored their dignity.
Let us think too of Jesus on Golgotha. The Son of God hangs naked on the cross; the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it (cf. Jn 19:23-24). He has nothing left. The cross is the extreme revelation of Jesus’ sharing the lot of those who have lost their dignity for lack of the necessities of life. Just as the Church is called to be the “tunic of Christ” and to clothe her Lord once more, so She is committed to solidarity with the naked of the world, to help them recover the dignity of which they have been stripped. Jesus’ words: “I was naked and you clothed me” (Mt 25:36), oblige us not to turn our backs on the new forms of poverty and marginalisation that prevent people from living a life of dignity.
Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity. How many situations exist today where we can restore dignity to individuals and make possible a truly humane life! Let us think only about the many children who suffer from forms of violence that rob them of the joy of life. I keep thinking of their sorrowful and bewildered faces. They are pleading for our help to be set free from the slavery of the contemporary world. These children are the young adults of tomorrow. How are we preparing them to live with dignity and responsibility? With what hope can they face their present or their future?
The social character of mercy demands that we not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy, lest our plans and projects remain a dead letter. May the Holy Spirit help us to contribute actively and selflessly to making justice and a dignified life not simply clichés but a concrete commitment of those who seek to bear witness to the presence of the Kingdom of God.
20. We are called to promote a culture of mercy based on the rediscovery of encounter with others, a culture in which no one looks at another with indifference or turns away from the suffering of our brothers and sisters. The works of mercy are “handcrafted”, in the sense that none of them is alike. Our hands can craft them in a thousand different ways, and even though the one God inspires them, and they are all fashioned from the same “material”, mercy itself, each one takes on a different form.
The works of mercy affect a person’s entire life. For this reason, we can set in motion a real cultural revolution, beginning with simple gestures capable of reaching body and spirit, people’s very lives. This is a commitment that the Christian community should take up, in the knowledge that God’s word constantly calls us to leave behind the temptation to hide behind indifference and individualism in order to lead a comfortable life free of problems. Jesus tells His disciples: “The poor will always be with you” (Jn 12:8). There is no alibi to justify not engaging with the poor when Jesus has identified Himself with each of them.
The culture of mercy is shaped in assiduous prayer, in docility to the working of the Holy Spirit, in knowledge of the lives of the saints and in being close to the poor. It urges us not to overlook situations that call for our involvement. The temptation to theorise “about” mercy can be overcome to the extent that our daily life becomes one of participation and sharing. Nor should we ever forget what the Apostle tells us about his meeting with Peter, James and John after his conversion. His words highlight an essential aspect of his own mission and of the Christian life as a whole: “They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do” (Gal 2:10). We cannot forget the poor: this is an injunction as relevant today as ever, and one that compels by its evangelical warrant.
21. The Jubilee impresses upon us the words of the Apostle Peter: “Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10). Let us not hold on jealously to what we have received, but share it with our brothers and sisters in need, so that they can be sustained by the power of the Father’s mercy. May our communities reach out to all who live in their midst, so that God’s caress may reach everyone through the witness of believers.
This is the time of mercy. Each day of our journey is marked by God’s presence. He guides our steps with the power of the grace that the Spirit pours into our hearts to make them capable of loving. It is the time of mercy for each and all, since no one can think that he or she is cut off from God’s closeness and the power of His tender love. It is the time of mercy because those who are weak and vulnerable, distant and alone, ought to feel the presence of brothers and sisters who can help them in their need. It is the time of mercy because the poor should feel that they are regarded with respect and concern by others who have overcome indifference and discovered what is essential in life. It is the time of mercy because no sinner can ever tire of asking forgiveness and all can feel the welcoming embrace of the Father.
To read the full apostolic letter, please click here.