“Sometimes … rather than seek out the grace of the Sacrament of Mercy, we may prefer to remain behind locked doors.”
Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, O.P., the highest-ranking American at the Vatican these days, made this point during a homily on Divine Mercy Sunday.
He was preaching at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. It’s called “Mary’s House,” and I like to consider it the parish church for a nation in need of a mother’s help.
The timing of his homily was possibly quite providential.
It was less than a week before Pope Francis issued his apostolic exhortation on love, marriage, baby carriages – and a whole host of other things – focusing our attention on merciful love yet again during the year of mercy.
Mom, dad, and the “domestic church” were a primary part of his focus, as the pope he beatified during the first synod that contributed to this document on family, the prophetic Paul VI, put it.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy!
It seems all Pope Francis is capable of talking about, whatever the issue.
Then Bernie Sanders announces the pope’s more radical than he is on Morning Joe on MSNBC Friday morning, and that seems to drive the story line where hopes and dreams and Rolling Stone covers are invested in the Holy Father up-hauling Church doctrine and announcing one day soon same-sex marriage and any-/every-thing else is A-Okay.
That didn’t happen, of course, in “The Joy of Love,” released Friday from Pope Francis… and don’t miss the joy and the love in the frenzy of sound bytes and commentary.
But Sanders is right. Pope Francis is more radical than the socialist senator from Vermont. He’s radical in the ways of the Gospel.
I like to call Pope Francis the Jesuit spiritual director for the world. Of course, the problem with doing that is it unintentionally encourages all types of recycled Jesuit jokes.
Why I do it anyway is he is often a Jesuit at his best—making use of the great gift of St. Ignatius Loyola, his Spiritual Exercises. If you listen to Francis – especially in his daily Mass homilies at Santa Marta – you hear a good shepherd guiding the people of God in an examination of conscience.
I can’t remember a time where he didn’t call me out on something I needed to be called out on. He draws you deeper into prayer.
You often hear his prayers, which are so often focused deep on the suffering of those who are most overlooked, ignored, cast aside, and forgotten. And, yes, that includes the impoverished, the sick, the prisoner, and those vulnerable and seen as disposable often under false and confused banners of mercy and freedom and flourishing.
There has been a convergence of events of late surrounding this papal release, signed on the feast of Saint Joseph. There was Divine Mercy Sunday, of course.
At the national shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass., some 12,000 people – many sick and disabled, poor, and families – braved a frigid day with unforgiving winds for an outdoor Mass there. They waited on lines for Confession. They are witnesses to who we need to be.
Many of them, of course, were of the pious sort – as was evidenced by the long lines for the gift-shop tent, with Divine Mercy for sale in just about every tasteful and other ways possible. (Who am I to judge? I didn’t abstain.)
But what about those who lived through yet another Divine Mercy Sunday distant from the Church, seeing no real way in?
Mother Angelica, who died the Sunday before, on Easter, may just come to be a patron saint for them. Perhaps that’s why her decade of intense suffering in silence ended this Easter Sunday.
I suggest this because of a brother in Christ I ran into at her Mass of Christian burial, in Hanceville, Alabama on April 1: Paul Darrow. He’s a former international model who lived big – and saw most of his friends die of AIDS in the 80s and 90s.
One night, he and the man he was living with, happened upon this cloistered nun in an eye patch (after her first stroke) on cable TV. A “pirate nun,” he ridiculed her. But she got under his skin and was a step along the way into the very fallen away Catholic – he had figured he had broken every commandment there was.
He walks around today like a man given new life, because he is. He gets the power of Divine Mercy.
Pope Francis wants everyone to encounter this. He doesn’t want to excuse sins he wants to unite sinners in that sacrament of mercy, the one we have been known to hide from – or even, implausibly, feel excluded from. He wants to lead people to the sacramental waters. He wants them to be renewed in Christ.
That road isn’t always going to be simple. Ours is a culture that has long affirmed and encouraged sin – even in the Church. Ours is a Church whose moral authority is not seen as scandals have exposed such rot within its ranks of men, obscuring the often hidden and unappreciated holy, saintly ones.
It’s a Church, too, with leaders and members who found themselves living as chameleons and turtles, as Harvard Law professor and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon has put it –either blending in with the culture or ducking for cover, privatizing our faith.
Thanks be to God for a Holy Father who knows the Holy Spirit.
We might consider following.
As Di Noia put it, quoting our Lord: “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
Please remain behind closed doors for not a second longer. Pope Francis knows it may take more time than that. But he knows we Christians all have to walk together to just that place – to the Father’s merciful arms.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author, with Austen Ivereigh, of the revised edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com).