Jesus Christ is ‘the face of the Father’s mercy’ or Misericordiae Vultus and we need to contemplate that face, most especially in 2016, a year of Jubilee. So writes Pope Francis in a short booklet called a ‘bull’ but with far from bullish tone. It thrills with the perception that the church’s greatest strengths are both her sense of need for divine mercy and her reflection of that mercy pastorally. Drawing on scripture and tradition Francis urges reflection on the profundity of the divine love especially as encountered in the sacrament of reconciliation.
The Pope’s own episcopal motto 'miserando atque eligendo' recalls words of Bede on Jesus calling Matthew ‘looking upon him with merciful love and choosing him’. Recognising Christian vocation as being in a context of that mercy is the thesis of this booklet in preparation for a year to deepen discipleship.
There is a valuable section on the relationship between justice and mercy ‘two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love’. Jesus’ meals with sinners show mercy, respect for the dignity of all, and are allied to his praise and practice of faithfulness to divine law. Pope Francis uses Saint Paul as the obvious example of the merciful reframing of justice brought about in Christian conversion.
The forthcoming Jubilee is labelled ‘extraordinary’ and this adjective applies well to the author’s paragraph lauding Islam and Judaism for believing ‘no one can place a limit on divine mercy because its doors are always open’. The Pope continues with an aspiration that the Jubilee year ‘will foster an encounter with these (and other noble) religions.. eliminat(ing) every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination’.
Misericordiae Vultus is a big ask for a world where human mastering and dominion of the earth leaves so little space for mercy. In the new humanity of Christendom service of God’s mercy in deed and word is one of our most intriguing and attractive features and this booklet is aid and inspiration for that enterprise.