Building culture of mercy, accompaniment Print E-mail
Bishop's Column
Written by Bishop Robert C. Morlino   
Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear Friends,

Of late it seems that all roads -- whether in Rome or at home -- lead to one place, to one theme: mercy.

Just a week or two ago, many of us in the diocese were blessed to experience the presence of the major relics of St. Maria Goretti -- the Church’s youngest canonized Saint and one of our greatest examples of mercy. If you do not know her story, I highly encourage you to learn about it.

The tour of St. Maria Goretti’s remains around the United States is part of a preparation for the Year of Mercy, which Pope Francis has announced and which will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception -- December 8.

Focus on mercy

In our diocese we will be focusing a great deal of our efforts -- from our catechetical endeavors, to our liturgies, to our Annual Catholic Appeal -- upon the contemplation of mercy in our lives, upon God who is the source of all mercy, and upon the way we “live” mercy through our corporal and spiritual works.

And right now, of course, the Synod of Bishops on the Family is concluding its gathering, and it has been very much focused upon the family and upon the role of mercy in all the various aspects of the family.

Given all of this, I think it safe to say that the theme of mercy will be at the forefront of my own meditation and preaching for some time. Already, in our Confirmation ceremonies of this fall, I’ve been focusing on mercy and about what our young people -- and indeed all the faithful -- are called to do in order to be servants of mercy.

Pope Francis has said very beautifully what we want to build in the Church is a culture of mercy and a culture of accompaniment, and we want to understand that a bit better so that you and I can live that a little bit better.

What is and isn’t mercy

What is mercy? Please God, by the end of this Year of Mercy everyone will know what mercy is, and we’ll be working through the answer all year. It’s important to ask this question and to focus on the right answer, because there are a lot of false notions of mercy out there. So, let’s start with what mercy is not.

There is, for example, the notion of “mercy killing,” that has crept into our vocabulary. The idea of “mercy killing,” of euthanasia, is that if somebody is suffering, the “merciful” thing to do is to get rid of the sufferer.

For the Christian, that cannot be mercy. It cannot possibly be mercy to end suffering by getting rid of the sufferer. It does not respect the dignity of the human person, nor does it reflect the reality of a life in Christ.

By our Baptism, by our Confirmation, and by the Holy Eucharist, we “sign up” for the Cross of Jesus Christ. “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Mt 16:24).” “Whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me (Mt 10:38).” “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (Lk 14:27).” Jesus says this, and more!

The whole point of the Christian life is to live with the suffering that has come into this fallen world and, by the grace of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, to overcome it, like Christ, with Christ, and in Christ! God’s mercy to all of us was spelled out through the death of Christ on the cross, and our suffering made redemptive.

The point is not simply to have the suffering taken away, which is what “mercy killing” does. “Mercy killing” takes away the suffering at the expense of the sufferer. It says that suffering has no value, and not only that, the negative value of suffering is such that it cancels out the intrinsic value of human life. To destroy human life is never a solution to a human problem. That comes from the devil. “The wages of sin is death (Rm 6:23)!”

False kinds of mercy

So, “mercy killing” is a phony kind of mercy. And there are other phony kinds of mercy that are being talked about today and many of them have to do with holding back the truth from those who deserve it, in order to make them feel better or to try to deny a cross that is present. Mercy is a fruit of charity and charity can never be opposed to the truth.

In the area of marriage and family life there are all sorts of attempts to deny truths and to deny crosses. I have no doubt that such attempts are out of good intentions, but they are not mercy. They grow out of a false sense of charity and of mercy.

In our day there may be no more prevalent temptation to this false sense of mercy than that which comes when discussing the reality of persons who are same-sex attracted. It is my sense that a great many people in our society, even Christians, while recognizing not only their own personal discomfort with homosexual acts, but also the conflict between such acts and the truths of the natural law and of religious teaching, have come to a decision that it is merciful not only to consider homosexual acts normal, but even to consider same-sex unions acceptable.

In other words, people know the truths of human anatomy and of the origins of family and pretend that such truths do not matter, in order to be nice and “merciful” to those who have a very real cross.

That which is not true can never be loving, and that which is not loving cannot be merciful. It is not merciful to persons who are attracted to people of the same sex to tell them that acting upon these attractions and entering into same-sex unions is okay.

There are some people in the world and even in the Church who want to do that. People who find themselves drawn towards same-sex unions have a unique cross to carry. And their lives and their sufferings have value! What are they worth, these people who are same-sex attracted? They are worth the Life and the Blood of Jesus Christ. He died for them. That’s what they are worth. They can’t be worth any less to you and to me.

But we do people no favors, and we certainly do not show mercy, when we hide the truth, tell them what is not true is okay, and deny their cross. That’s false mercy. That’s not accompaniment.

Culture of accompaniment

In the culture of accompaniment, we walk with someone in charity and in the truth. For the person who is terminally ill and close to death, we accompany him or her as they move closer to eternal life; we don’t kill them!

For people who are same-sex attracted and who desire to know love and to love, we must accompany them and walk with them. We help them carry the cross and to follow in the path of love Jesus has ready for them.

It is not our place to take the cross away! We Christians sign up for the cross! How can we sign up to carry the Cross of Jesus every day of our lives and then do everything we possibly can to avoid the cross!? Or lie to others so that they can deny their crosses and miss the greatest gift they have been given? It makes no sense.

Mercy is lived through kindness, forbearance, and compassion -- to suffer with. Mercy means accompaniment. That’s why Pope Francis is so right. We each have our own cross from Christ -- that’s called the Christian life.

It’s not mercy to take away somebody else’s cross. It’s mercy to get under the cross and help them and accompany them, like Simon of Cyrene. That’s what mercy is. Nor is it mercy to deny our own crosses. In our own desire for mercy, let’s allow other people to accompany us like Simon of Cyrene as we carry our own crosses.

In accompanying one another and in allowing others to accompany us, we shall find the true unity and solidarity in Christ to which Christ Himself (and especially through Pope Francis) is calling every blessed one of us. And every blessed one of us truly is just that: blessed.

Thank you for taking the time to read this! Praised be Jesus Christ!