A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Proper Mercy

Jeff Drane copy

Fr Jeff Drane sm

My curiosity was awakened last year when I heard Pope Francis talk about mercy as something that most of us do not understand properly. Most of us see mercy as a minor attribute of God or a quality we need in order to be liked. Whereas Pope Francis has called for a year of mercy so that we can get an understanding that mercy is, as he says, ‘the face of God.’ It is a more complete description of God. It is how we need to see God.

I began to understand more of what he was saying when he mentioned that the best book he had read in the last ten years was Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life by Walter Kasper [Paulist Press, NY, 2013]. Though it increased the strain on my credit card I can now say it is the best theology book that I have read in the last thirty years. It is one of those books that is hard to put down. It has transformed my thinking, my prayer and my work.

Cardinal Walter Kasper

Cardinal Walter Kasper - Photo: Newsmax

Right from the opening sentence, Kasper gives reasons why humanity has to change its thinking about God. We have to change if we are going to survive as a species. All we have to do is reflect on the terrible botch-up we have made of the 20th century. If we carry on as we did then, it will be the end of us. Two major wars killing over 80 million people, two extreme regimes – Nazism and Communism – which killed millions and in the end neither regime worked; unimaginable genocide like Rwanda, extreme totalitarianism in the east, extreme permissiveness in the west, bigoted religious-based conflicts as in Ireland and Bosnia, extreme differences between the haves and have-nots. Add to all this the terrorism of the 21st century and the future looks bleak.

So Kasper maintains we need to take a fresh look at the way we see God and ourselves. How we respond to Scripture shows how we do not really understand how the Hebraic mind saw God in the past. He shows how they thought about God, to demonstrate how different our thinking is. The key point he makes is that we still think God is angry with us, we assume that we fall short of what is expected of us. Whereas, most of the Old and New Testament show God as merciful and compassionate towards our frailty. The whole point of the incarnation and the paschal mystery is that God takes back rightful and justified anger and provides space for mercy. Kasper continues to argue that God perpetually reconciles with us. When we perceive God as ‘angry’ and ‘unforgiving,’ it is us projecting on to God the way we look at reality. Drane Kasper book

Kasper contends that correct thinking of God and mercy frees us from our own delusion and frees us from despair. The truth about God as merciful gives us hope. If, as the history of the 20th century shows, our thinking led us to so much destruction and evil, is it not better to change? We are enfeebled. He shows from experience that even if we provide welfare, some fall through the cracks. Even if humanity evolves to something better, new deprivations arise; for example, following the discovery of penicillin, stronger viruses have continued to emerge. Even if we suddenly get rich, we are not free from loneliness, isolation or broken relationships. Quoting the 19th century Russian novelist Dostoevsky he concludes: “Besides physical suffering there’s also spiritual poverty and loss of orientation and experience of meaninglessness. Without God there is no hope for ultimate meaning or final justice.”

So much of ‘the horribleness’ of the 20th century was due to ‘the death of God’ thinking. Add to that, says Kasper, the ‘criminal neglect’ of the Church failing to portray God correctly, as merciful.

The consequence of all this horrible history has led to ‘mercy’ and ‘pity’ sounding like sentimental words. Social Darwinism has led us to think that only the strong survive, which is completely contrary to how God sees us.

So this is the century for us to revolutionise our thinking, as inspired by Jesus in his time. Life without mercy as our central motivation is pointless. People will only experience slavery. Understanding God properly as mercy will be the way for injustice and destruction of the 20th century to be replaced by growth, freedom and hope during this century.

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