Saturday, 4 July 2015

The Day of Christ, the Day of Mercy

I have just encountered a book Generating Traces in the History of the World,  a book which according to its blurb, "is a synthesis of Monsignor Luigi Giussani's reflection on Christian experience". In the last few months, excerpts from the book have appeared in Magnificat.

I was struck by the title of the last chapter of the book: "The Day of Christ, the Day of Mercy". Given Pope Francis' familiarity with the movement Communion and Liberation, I wonder whether that familiarity provides at least something of the background to his calling of the Year of Mercy, and a helpful way of understanding what the year is and is not about.

Just as the Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year includes a discussion of the relationship of justice and mercy to each other in the Christian mystery (nn.20-21), so does the chapter in Generating Traces suggest, albeit briefly, that where the reason of man can arrive at a notion of justice with regard to wrong doing, it takes the revelation of the Christian mystery to enable man to access the experience of mercy. The chapter does suggest an eschatological character to the revelation of divine mercy:
If every hour of history is the hour of Christ's human glory that happens through the conscious offering of believers, there will come a day that no one knows (neither the angels of God, nor the Son, but only the Father) when the definitive revelation of the Mystery will take place, as the valuing of every good the Father has generated, the Son has assumed, and the Spirit has made fruitful. All the good, even the furtive move stirred up in the almost unconscious darkness of human endeavours in history, will not be erased by God who, as the summit of Being, cannot contradict Himself by annihilating on single instant of good. It will be the day of the triumph of Christ, who will hand over everything to the Father, so that the Father may be "all in all".... If Christ is the protagonist of the "last day", the day of Christ's triumph will therefore be the day of mercy....
It is also worth reading the account of the parable of the prodigal son given in Generating Traces .. alongside that of Pope St John Paul II in his encyclical letter Dives in Misercordia (nn.5-6), in order to capture a nuance that is important in understanding a significance of the parable for the Holy Year:
In Rembrandt's famous painting, the prodigal son is the mirror image of the Father. The Father's face is full of sorrow at the son's error, at his denial, full of a sorrow that flows back into forgiveness. Human imagination can reach this point. But the most spectacular and mysterious thing is that the Father's face is the mirror image of the prodigal son. In Rembrandt's painting, the Father is in a position that mirrors the son - in Him is reflected the son's sorrow, the despair overcome, the destruction prevented, the happiness about to rekindle, in the instant in which it is about to rekindle, when goodness triumphs. Goodness triumphs in the prodigal son because he weeps for his mistake. But goodness triumphs in the Father: this is the concept of mercy which man cannot manage to understand, or speak of. And the Father's face is mercy, because it is pity for the one who has gone wrong and is there, turned towards the one who is coming back.
When we put this alongside words which occur about a page later in the chapter, and still commenting on the parable, it is impossible to take away from the proposal of the Jubilee of Mercy any sense that it is indifferent to wrong doing. Indeed, the call to conversion is of the essence of the response to mercy.
The concept of forgiveness, with a certain proportion between mistakes and punishments, is in some way conceivable for human reason, but not this limitless forgiveness that is mercy. Being forgiven arises here from something absolutely incomprehensible to man, from the Mystery; in other words, from mercy. It is what cannot be understood that ensures the exceptionality of what can be understood, because God's life is love, caritas, absolute free giving, love without profit, humanly "without reasons".
The chapter in Generating Traces .. suggests two ways in which we might in our turn try to be merciful as the Father is merciful. The first is that we should be sorrowful for what we have done, but sorrowful in a way that is at once also joy:
In virtue of the revelation of His mercy - which would seem to sanction all human behaviour, but it does not - God fills us with sorrow for the evil that we were not even aware of before ... his is a sorrow full of gladness, but it is still sorrow, sorrow at oneself.
The second is that of responding in astonishment at God's mercy, expressed in an attitude of entreaty, or begging, before the Lord:
We are not truly human if we do not wish to be merciful like our heavenly Father. The question is whether or not we really desire it. So the miracle of mercy is the desire to change.... This desire defines the present, the instant of man who is a sinner. The miracle is accepting oneself and entrusting oneself to an Other present so as to be changed, standing before Him and begging.
Entreaty is the whole expression of man now, in the instant.
Just as Pope Francis, at the end of the Bull of Indiction for the Holy Year of Mercy, indicates the dimension of evangelisation contained in the proclamation of mercy:
[The Church] knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ.
so does Generating Traces.., though from the viewpoint of an experience of Christian life:
The reality of mercy is the supreme opportunity that Christ and the Church have for making His Word reach man, not just as a mere echo of this word in man.

No comments: