ROME — Closing a tumultuous Synod of Bishops in which “mercy” was often the watchword for prelates seeking progressive openings on issue such as divorce and remarriage and gay and lesbian relationships, Pope Francis on Sunday declared that “Today is a time of mercy!”
Although he did not mention any of the substantive topics discussed by the Oct. 4-25 synod during a Vatican Mass that closed the event, he did urge the gathering in St. Peter’s Basilica to rely more on God’s mercy and forgiveness.
He warned the bishops of the risk of “becoming habitually unmoved by grace,” of turning a cold shoulder to God’s most wounded children, and of a “spirituality of illusion” that doesn’t let them see the reality of their flock before them and respond to it.
“A faith that does not know how to root itself in the life of people remains arid and, rather than oases, creates other deserts,” he said, adding that moments of suffering and conflict are precisely the occasions for God to show mercy.
“When humanity’s cry becomes stronger still, there is no other response than to make Jesus’ words our own and, above all, imitate his heart,” Francis said. “Moments of suffering and conflict are, for God, occasions of mercy.”
“Today is a time of mercy!”
Mercy is a key concept for Pope Francis, who has it as part of his papal motto (Miserando atque eligendo, “choosing through mercy”). It also arose as a key word in the meeting’s final report, which it appeared 27 times.
Francis also has decreed a special Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will begin Dec. 8.
Addressing the 270 prelates from 120 countries who participated in the synod, as well as thousands of others who filled the basilica, Francis said that “Jesus shows that he wants to hear our need. He wants to talk with each of us about our lives, our real situations, so that nothing is kept from him.”
The pontiff offered two warnings that appeared directed at anyone who prizes ideology over flesh-and-blood people, decrying both what he called a “spirituality of illusion,” which ignores people’s struggles, and a “scheduled faith,” where the path is already set and there’s no time to help those in need.
He also said there are two temptations for those who follow Jesus: The risk of becoming unmoved by grace, and ignoring the problems others face.
“This can be a danger for us: in the face of constant problems, it is better to move on, instead of letting ourselves be bothered,” Francis said, referencing a quote in from Sunday’s Gospel in which Jesus disciples ignore Bartimaeus, a blind man that wanted to be cured by Jesus.
“In this way, just like the disciples, we are with Jesus, but we do not think like him,” the pope said.
With regard to a “spirituality of illusion,” Francis said it means talking about God and working for him, but living far from his heart, which reaches out to the wounded.
“We can walk through the deserts of humanity without seeing what is really there; instead, we see what we want to see,” the pope said.
Francis also warned against having a “scheduled faith,” through which those who follow Jesus have a “scheduled journey, where everything is listed.”
“We know where to go and how long it will take; everyone must respect our rhythm and every problem is a bother,” the pope said.
On Saturday, the Vatican released the synod’s final document, voted on by the bishops and presented to Pope Francis. It’s still unclear if the pope, who called for a two-year debate on family issues in 2013, will now write an apostolic exhortation (a letter) on the family, or will leave this document as the synod’s final word.
If the pontiff listens to the bishops’ request, a papal document on the family is to be expected. The last line of the text was, “Concluding this process, we ask the pope to consider issuing a document regarding the family.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.