Msgr. Harry Entwistle’s “Musings” on the Year of Mercy

16 November 2015


”The quality of mercy is not strain’d
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,”

Shakespeare – Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1

year-of-mercy-logoHis Holiness Pope Francis has declared that a Holy Year of Mercy be observed by all Catholics from 8 December 2015 until the Feast of Christ the King, 2016. Mercy is defined in dictionaries as

‘compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone who you have power to justly punish or harm’.

Christians, Jews and Muslims consider God to be merciful and Christians believe God’s grace is when we get the good things we don’t deserve, and His mercy is when we are spared from the bad things we do deserve. He is generous with both. In Scripture the hope of God’s unworthy followers is that his mercy will be greater than his justice.

There is much talk about mercy in the Church at this time and in the next year there will be even more. The recent Synod on the Family focussed on it a great deal. If the journalists and bloggers are to be believed, the Synod was a battle between the ‘conservative’ legalists who want no change to the present rules about unannulled, civilly remarried divorcees receiving communion and the definition of marriage and the liberal reformists who urged the Church to move from being ‘legalistic to being more merciful.’

This sort of statement assumes that the law and mercy are incompatible. The concept of mercy in our secularised Western society is being absorbed by some elements in the Church and being presented as one of God’s new revelations.

Msgr Harry EntwistleThis understanding of mercy has dispensed with any acceptance of sin as being a reality. If there is no sin then our moral lives can be ordered exactly as we please. There are no boundaries, no restrictions, no standards. The secularists and liberal Christians are trying to sell the Church a twisted understanding of ‘mercy’ which allows us to do what we like, wrapped in a thin veneer of ‘discernment,’ ‘discussion,’ ‘dialogue’ and accompaniment.’ It turns every moral decision we make into what we decide it to be in any given situation, and justifies these decisions as an act of conscience. Sadly, the ‘dictates’ of conscience can be a measure of our self-centredness.

The biblical understanding of mercy does not dispense with the belief that sin is real. Although human nature is wounded, it is not totally corrupted, so it needs guidance in determining what is right and wrong. St Paul describes the law as a schoolmaster teaching us where the limits are. He also tells us that Jesus is the fulfillment of the law, so the law leads us to faith in Jesus. The law tells us what sin is. If we say there is no sin we are saying that we are blameless, so there is no need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God and others. ‘No sin, no worries, mate’ may be the slogan of the secularist, but when it creeps into the teaching of the Church it becomes cancerous and ultimately destructive because there is nothing in place to halt its progress.

None of us like a doctor telling us how sick we might be, but we want honesty and treatment, however radical it might be. We don’t want to be told we have nothing wrong with us that a couple of panadol won’t fix, and if we ‘get down’ the doctor will be there to ‘share our pain.’ We want to be told the truth no matter how bad it might make us feel so that action can be taken to put things right.

Anglican priests used to be described as being given the ‘cure of souls’ when they were inducted in a new parish. The priest was charged with being a doctor of souls, diagnosing major and minor spiritual sicknesses caused by sin and offering the confessional as treatment and penance as therapy, so achieving reconciliation and holiness.

The decline in the number of Catholics making use of the confessional is an indication of the grip that secularist views of sin’s non-existence has in the Church. No sin, no need for confession, no need for God’s mercy. No worries, mate, she’ll be right! Concentrate on being healthy, wealthy and being content: Archbishop Michael Ramsay reminds us that “To be healthy and whole is no substitute for being forgiven and holy.” The good news is that the tide is turning and more Catholics are hearing the gospel message that God calls us to repentance so that we might receive his mercy and be strengthened through his grace to continue on the road of discipleship to our heavenly home.

Many Ordinariate members have not come from the tradition of being regular sacramental penitents, but in this year of Mercy, especially in Lent, it would be good if we were to reflect on the simple truth that we cannot show true mercy to others unless we ourselves have experienced God’s mercy. Without an acceptance that the Church’s rules and teachings do not exist to make our lives difficult, but exist to instruct us what sin is, we will never come to know God’s love and mercy through confession and forgiveness. Without that, the mercy we think we should show others is no more than accepting them as they are without question, and expecting no changes in them.

This is not what God expects. It is not what he has revealed to us through Jesus, and he does not expect the Church to preach this as the gospel.

The cry of the Church must be, “No worries mate, come as you are but we will suffer with you if you are prepared for the hard grind and become what God knows you to be.” This is being faithful to God’s teaching in Scripture and is a pastoral approach. This is what I pray the outcome of the recent Synod will be.

Monsignor Harry Entwistle

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