November/December 2015

The Year of Mercy

Michael A. Hayes

‘The quality of mercy
is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.
It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes’.
The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene I William Shakespeare, 1564 – 1616.

In this speech by Portia in The Merchant of Venice Shakespeare offers an insight into the effect of mercy. It is a blessing for the person who receives mercy and it is a blessing for the person who gives mercy. Later in the speech he acknowledges that mercy is an attribute of God. This insight by Shakespeare may well be a useful entry into a deeper understanding of what the Year of Mercy might mean for the Church.

In his Papal Bull announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis offers four dimensions of mercy which he invites the Church to contemplate during the Year of Mercy which will run from 8 December 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception until the Solemnity of Christ the King on 20th November 2016. ‘We need constantly’, writes the Pope, ‘to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a well spring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends in it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.’ (2). The Pope’s hope is that this Year of Mercy will be for all believers a true encounter with the mercy of God, that attribute of God as Shakespeare puts it. In a letter to the President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Archbishop Fisichella, he encourages all to witness to acts of mercy. He writes: ‘the commitment to live by mercy so as to obtain the complete and exhaustive forgiveness by the power of the love of the Father who excludes no one’ (1st September 2015). This is part of that ‘twice blest’ nature of mercy – as Pope Francis suggests it is by living mercy that we obtain mercy.

In reading Misericordiae Vultus it is apparent that for Pope Francis mercy is not an aspect of God or a dimension of the relationship between Creator and creature, but is quite primordial; it is the way in which God is received by humankind and the nature of all relationship with God. Just to briefly open up the four aspects that Francis designates shows something of how he understands the nature of mercy.

Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. The Trinity is the dynamic communion between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; the giving and receiving of mercy brings the individual into an encounter with and an experience of that dynamic communion.

Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. As we enter the season of Advent and prepare to celebrate the Incarnation we can see God’s condescension in coming among as Word made Flesh as the great act of mercy.
Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy is the appropriate response to others, when truly engaging with others we recognise in them the same need of mercy as we are conscious of ourselves – hence in encountering others we recognise our receipt of mercy and so respond in like terms.

Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. Mercy is the bridge and we are encouraged to recognise it as a two way bridge – ultimately it is because we receive mercy that we are able to grant mercy – but we can never forget that it is a bridge which is constructed by God at God’s initiative.
Portia’s words are not a theological pronouncement on mercy, but they do direct us to that essential two-fold aspect of mercy that comes across in Misericordiae Vultus: humankind is enabled to deal mercifully because it is dealt with mercifully from above. The two aspects are intimately related. Jesus teaches the same reality when he offers his teaching on prayer: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. This is the double dynamic of mercy – it is by receiving it that we are able to bestow it.

Preaching Luke with love (1)

Gerald O’Collins SJ

In response to Pope Francis’ call for better preaching, we continue a series taking examples from all four gospels. Gerald O’Collins SJ is adjunct professor of Australia Catholic University.

‘Preparation for preaching requires love. We devote periods of quiet time only to the things or the people we love’ (The Joy of the Gospel, 146). With such words Pope Francis encourages preachers in their ‘wonderful but difficult task of joining loving hearts, the hearts of the Lord and his people’ (no. 143). Let me take up this challenge of love.

The Magnificat and the Benedictus at Christmas
On 22 December and 24 December, respectively, the Gospel is the Magnificat (Luke 1.46–55) and then the Benedictus (Luke 1.b68–79). In any case we hear and use those two wonderful hymns on many other occasions during the year.

The Magnificat and the Benedictus are both great songs of praise, praise that we express to God our Saviour.

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The Crib: Decoration or Liturgical Event?

Thomas O’Loughlin

The crib in church at Christmas is a familiar sight, but its role in liturgical celebration is often overlooked. Thomas O’Loughlin examines the ways in which the crib is at the heart of our Christian memory of the nativity accounts. The author is Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Nottingham.

The crib is one of the most popular religious symbols of Christmas, and its preparation and use is part of the community’s Christmas liturgy. However, the building of the crib, what it communicates, and where it is located do not often figure on the agenda of those planning the liturgy, and the crib itself often gives the impression of being thrown up in a hurry, with little thought about its significance or potential for liturgical celebration.

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Written for Our Instruction (3): Spirit in the Letter to the Romans

Thomas D. Stegman SJ

The third in a series of articles on the rich theology contained in Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Thomas D. Stegman SJ is professor of New Testament at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, USA.

We continue our reflections on the theological significance of Romans by looking at what Paul says about ‘the Spirit of holiness’ (1.4) and ‘the power of the Holy Spirit’ (15.13). While it would be anachronistic to read back onto him later Trinitarian doctrine, it must be said that what would be articulated in more metaphysical terminology centuries later extrapolates, in large part, what is found in his letters. And no letter is more important for examining Paul’s pneumatology than Romans (in fact, its eighth chapter contains the most sustained treatment of the Spirit in the New Testament).

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The compassionate hero. Theodore Bayley Hardy VC, DSO, MC

Paul Hypher

As an army Chaplain in the First World War, Theodore Bayley Hardy exemplified the true meaning and practice of priestly ministry, writes Paul Hypher. The author is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Southwark.

The First World War terms of reference for Catholic Chaplains, like the heroic Fr Willie Doyle, were clear: to celebrate Mass and administer the Sacraments. This was what Catholic troops, the majority from Irish Regiments, expected. RC chaplains were respected and the men, having received the sacraments, were renowned for facing death with fortitude and inner peace.
For Church of England Chaplains the situation was different. The alienation of Church of England Chaplains from officers and men in World War I was an issue both during and after the war, especially given the secularist and pacifist reactions of the 1920’s and 1930’s.

In 1914 there were only 167 Army Chaplains of all denominations; by the end of the war there were 3,475. This rapid increase led to a lack of clear objectives and resources, especially in the Church of England.

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