The Theological Committee works as an advisory body to the Irish Episcopal Conference under the direction of the Council for Doctrine. On the occasion of the 50th International Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012, the Theological Committee published O Sacred Banquet.
When he was inaugurating the ‘Jubilee Year of Mercy’ Pope Francis encouraged and enabled us to go to the very heart of God’s relationship with us. Pope Francis has reminded us time and again that in Jesus Christ we stand before the face of God’s mercy. Mercy is the bridge that connects God and humanity, opening our heart to hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (Pope Francis, Mercicordiae Vultus, 2).
On the 21 September 2016, as he reflected on the theme of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis said, “Merciful like the Father is not just a ‘slogan’ for effect, but a life commitment”. In that respect, although the Year of Mercy may have closed, the Irish Theological Committee considers that it is important that all of us ought to reflect on Mercy and not lose sight of the richness of Pope Francis’ approach and the challenging realities of that central message. In a retreat to priests Pope Francis emphasised that ‘Mercy’ is a verb rather than a noun.
The various reflections in this booklet are intended to enable readers to understand more fully some of the many aspects of God’s mercy. This collection of articles from members of the Theological Committee of the Irish Episcopal Conference endeavours to explore this theme in its varied aspects whether Theological, Spiritual or Pastoral. In Part I, we have reflections on the scriptural background and on the writings of Saint Thomas. Part II, dealing with Mercy and the Church, and this challenges us to transform our lives through an encounter of the merciful face of the Father through Jesus Christ, especially through the sacraments. In this we are challenged to become Missionaries of Mercy and ambassadors of reconciliation, encouraging and enabling the Prodigal to return to a merciful Father. In part 3, we are introduced to Mercy and the Christian calling. Here Mercy is contemplated as fundamental to our Christian calling and providing a sense of direction for us, a kind of compass to help chart the way in a complicated and complex world where compassion is frequently seen as an impediment to progress.
Yet the centrality of mercy was recognised by a repentant and remorseful David who expressed the wish to “fall into the hands of God whose mercy is great, rather than into the hands of men”. (2 Samuel 24:14). It may be instructive to compare and contrast the biblical perspective with the Greek world. The Stoics regarded mercy as a sickness of the soul and therefore something unworthy of the wise person. For the Greeks mercy was an emotion rather than something which finds expression in relationship to others.
In the Old Testament, by contrast, God’s mercy suggests his faithful and merciful help. This mercy is something which God has promised. We cannot claim it but we can confidently expect it. Saint Augustine of Hippo reminded us.
“Trust the past to the mercy of God,
The present to his love,
The future to his providence”.
Even a cursory acquaintance with the centrality of mercy in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ makes us aware of the enormous implications of mercy in the relationship between God and the people of God as we get some insight into the depth of that truth. In his pastoral ministry Saint John Vianney reminded us that “our faults are like a grain of sand beside the great mountain of the mercies of God”.
I thank Pamela McLoughlin of Veritas for publishing these contributions in a very attractive and user-friendly volume. Our gratitude also to Aidan Chester, Director and the Veritas staff. We owe a debt of gratitude to the editor, Dr Mary McCaughey, for collecting and editing the material, and are deeply indebted to my colleagues on the Irish Theological Committee for those contributions in their areas of special interest.
It is our hope as a Theological Committee that this book reflects our conviction about the centrality of mercy in scripture, theology and Church life, and will make a worthwhile contribution to all who wish to deepen their understanding of mercy from a Christian view point. Tolle et Lege – Take and Read.
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam, chair of the Council for Doctrine, and chair of the Theological Committee, of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference. This address was delivered on 20 November 2017 in Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
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