When Jorge Mario Bergoglio becamePope Francis on March 13, 2013, a pair of feelings stirred in me — hope and skepticism. Both felt like one authentic reaction.
When I heard he was interested in the poor, the hungry and marginalized, I blithely remarked: “Isn’t that entrance-level gospel work?” I admit, this was an embarrassing ignorance on my part. For decades I’d been used to a different message coming from Rome.
But now, the entire world has witnessed that Pope Francis’ compassion for the suffering of our brothers and sisters the world over is not work for him.
Rather, it is his total immersion in the mind of Christ, his being in Christ, his joy in Christ. It has been a constant invitation and call to all of us trying to be faithful to the gospel.
…may the church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid and love. May she never tire of extending mercy and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort. May the Church become the voice of every man and woman, and repeat confidently without end: “be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love, for they have been from old” (Psalms 25:6).
The Catholic Church of the Beatitudes has always answered the call to live the gospel with dedication and joy. We have varied and active ministries inside, as well as outside the Beatitudes, that we support.
If it’s a corporal work of mercy, we do it. If it’s social justice, we address it. If it’s controversial, we consider it with open minds.
We take care in our community, serving the homeless, fighting for the rights of the mentally ill and marginalized, standing vigil at Vandenberg Air Force Base against nuclear annihilation, and supporting the creative life of formerly incarcerated men and women.
We take care of each other in times of sickness, grief and changing life circumstances. We celebrate the gifts and accomplishments of each other and work to see that others in the Santa Barbara community receive the same consideration.
This year, Pope Francis has presented the official Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy — “a special time for the Church, when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.” Apparently, it isn’t business as usual like yesteryear.
So I have to ask myself, if the Beatitudes community has been actively engaged in gospel work, then what is the meaning of a Holy Year of Mercy for us? What will make this year different from what we have been doing?
It seems like keen discernment is what is required as we define the scope of mercy. The pope makes it clear when he says, “We must always consider the person. Here we enter into the mystery of the human being. In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation. It is necessary to accompany them with mercy.”
I interpret this to mean that mercy is not a smorgasbord — no room for mercy-lite. He means absolutely everyone.
It is easy to stumble here if you are trying to practice rigorous honesty. It is here and now that we must ask ourselves different questions — perhaps even difficult ones.
“How far are we willing to go to be merciful,” is a good starting place.
Pope Francis asks us to contemplate the idea of a Holy door.
“… a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope,” he says.
It makes me think of all the doors in my mind that are only partially open, and some that are closed altogether.
Before crossing the threshold of mercy, it’s important to examine who is shut out, who is forgotten, who is too difficult or who not deserving at all. Mercy has hidden depths when we care to wander there.
At the first Beatitudes community meeting in this Holy Year of Mercy, the question of what mercy would look like for us was raised. One woman, well known for her thoughtful responses, mentioned softly, “Maybe we could offer forgiveness to someone who has harmed our community.”
I silently struggled with that. (Could I really do it? No, yes, no … is how it went).
Then I realized I am part of a community that never shies away from difficult issues and is more than willing to tread further together into unknown territory.
Pope Francis stresses that our own lifestyles contribute to much of the suffering of people in the world. The Beatitudes has started looking for ways to reduce our carbon footprint.
We are looking for ways to answer where it is we can simplify our lives and use of material goods, and we are aware of our responsibility to those who suffer the effects of consumerism and its excessiveness.
When it comes to mercy and all its nuanced meanings, the Beatitudes community has committed to keeping the doors wide open and will continue to ask probing questions, challenging ourselves to go deeper to find newer meanings that we haven’t imagined.
As a community, the Beatitudes give special attention to Pope Francis’ reminder: “.. God has chosen our time as a special moment in history for emphasizing this aspect of God’s plan.”
As a contemplative community, shepherded by two Roman Catholic women priests, the Beatitudes will continue to act with the same courage and faithfulness that has always enlivened us. We are, after all, in the words of Francis: “… the flock that has a flair for finding new paths.”
— Francie Monk is a member of and co-chair for the Safe Parking Outreach for Women program through the the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes, which celebrates Mass at 4:30 p.m. Saturdays at First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara, 2101 State St. Click here for more information, or call 805.252.4105.Click here for previous columns.