“Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). On December 8th, Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of Mercy in the Basilica of St. Peter and hundreds more were opened around the United States, ritually marking the start of an Extraordinary Year of Mercy. During this time, all Catholics are called to be the face of mercy, living and tangible in the world.
And how our world is in need of mercy! In our country we have borne witness to violence against people of color by police, mass shootings in California and Colorado, and rhetoric increasingly steeped in hate. It is natural to become angry, bitter, and to seek a vengeful justice. We are tempted to call for harsh punishment and even death. However, to pursue a vengeful justice, like the death penalty, does not drive out violence but perpetuates it. Pope Francis offers us a different way forward in his teachings on mercy.
Pope Francis shares with us how Saint Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus changed his view of justice. In the literal and metaphorical light of Christ, Paul grew to see justice as a liberating force to those degraded by sin, not solely a retributive punishment for breaking the law. As Pope Francis says, “Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe.” Justice must always recognize the dignity of the human person and the redemptive power of God’s mercy to work in the lives of offenders.
This great mercy is extended to all, sinners and saints, no one is beyond the mercy of God. Even the perpetrators of horrific crimes are loved by God and offered a chance at reconciliation. Though forgiveness and healing may seem incomprehensible now, Pope Francis reminds us “no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” When we resort to punishments like the death penalty, we are placing limits on the love of God.
As we mourn those lost to violence this year, let us also look to the future with hope. This Jubilee Year of Mercy offers a new beginning, a time to courageously live God’s love. May we answer the call of Pope Francis to joyfully take the Church’s mission of mercy to the world and “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36).