Friday, 5 February 2016

The Year of Mercy; Pope's monthly prayer intentions

Pope Francis has declared a Year of Mercy, to run for most of 2016.  The Year is being commemorated by various events including, at Westminster Cathedral, a Way of Mercy, which I visited on 30 December 2015. It is like a Stations of the Cross in which a path of meditation unfolds the notion of holy mercy. Each of the ten stations along the Way of Mercy is marked by a work of art commissioned for the occasion.  I was struck by the simple, even cartoonish, piece illustrating the seventh station, dedicated to works of mercy.  There are fourteen works of mercy, divided between those of corporal mercy, such as feeding the hungry, and those of spiritual mercy, such as bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving offences willingly.

Many Quakers dislike the Roman Catholic Church. Its denial of contraception and of equal rights to women is indefensible, and the scandal of clerical abuse has revealed the ugly consequence of its authoritarianism.  On the other hand, Quakers will respond to the words from the Bible which Pope Francis takes as the text for the Year of Mercy, Be merciful even as God is merciful (Luke 6:36). The idea of mercy is powerful but comprehensible, easier to grasp perhaps than the vague notion of love.  In Church Latin it is misericordia, poorness of heart, indicative of its association with humility.  Mercy is directed as much at oneself as at others.  To be merciful to oneself is to accept and forgive one's own trespasses as much as one accepts and forgives the trespasses of others.  To be merciful is to practice compassion as best one can, recognising that one will always fall short of the divine standard which, Christians believe, is set by Jesus. The sense of mercy is well expressed by the familiar words of Isaac Pennington (10.01 in Quaker Faith & Practice).

Another initiative by the Pope is to post on video and social media his traditional monthly prayer intentions. The first video, available at features the Pope’s prayer intention for January: “That sincere dialogue among men and women of different faiths may produce the fruits of peace and justice”.

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