October 07, 2016

Justice & Mercy - First Things Link

Interesting commentary:
Wild promises of a “Francis Effect” have not materialized. Certain traveling salesmen have used the catchphrase to hawk changes in Catholic practice on divorce and remarriage and more: If only the Church would soften its tone and adjust its practice, the millions of Catholics who have left it would come rushing back.

Now, one need not resort to regression analysis to puncture these predictions. Common sense should establish that the Great Pumpkin has not arrived—but where common sense is lacking, one may draw on the data. This is what I did last week in an op-ed for the New York Times. As survey findings from Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) reveal, notwithstanding the immense publicity attached to the idea of a Francis Effect, in America, at least, the downward trends in Catholic life have only continued during the current pontificate.

I view mercy and judgment as working naturally together; they tend to see them as being in conflict. Pope Francis himself often speaks as though the two are opposed. On the debate over communion for the divorced and remarried, he almost seems to think that it is counter to forgiveness to tell someone to go and sin no more. No doubt Francis and his defenders would say their account has room for both judgment and mercy, just as I would say that there is a time and place to speak of mercy rather than judgment. Still, the basic difference between our views remains. How to resolve it?

One answer comes from Bernard of Clairvaux, whose Sermons on the Song of Songs I have been reading. In the sixth sermon, Bernard describes mercy and judgment as the two feet on which Christ swiftly runs to meet us. “Beware that you do not neglect either of these feet,” he says. Instead, we must be grateful for the imprints left by both mercy and judgment in the Christian heart. Bernard then commences a rhapsody of praise:
No longer of judgment alone or mercy alone, but of mercy and judgment I will sing to you, O Lord. I shall never forget your precepts, mercy and judgment will be the theme of my songs in the house of my pilgrimage, until one day when mercy triumphs over judgment, my wretchedness will cease to smart, and my heart, silent no longer, will sing to you. It will be the end of sorrow.
We require both judgment and mercy. My conviction on this point does not stem from a feeling of superiority, or a pedantic obsession with doctrine and rules. It comes instead from the experience of my own human frailty. I know that I have sinned and deserve punishment. I also know that I am redeemed by grace. If the Church ceases to speak of either one, how can it reach me with the comfort of God’s love? To support me in my weakness, I need a Church that stands with both of Christ’s feet, on which Mary poured out her nard.

Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things. 

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