Mercy

Pope Francis Makes Emotional Appeal for Global Peace in Easter Message

Image via REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/RNS

Pope Francis made an emotional appeal for global peace during his traditional “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) Easter blessing, urging people to remember victims of the “blind and brutal violence” in recent terrorist attacks, such as last week’s Brussels bombings that killed 31 people.

Throughout, he emphasized a key theme of his pontificate: mercy.

Is Pope Francis Too Indulgent With Indulgences?

Image via REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi/RNS

Pope Francis has fascinated the public in large part because of how willingly he upends long-standing traditions and promotes a “revolution of tenderness” to set the Catholic Church on a new, more pastoral course for a new, more merciful era. To help fulfill this vision, Francis is also relying on an old-fashioned ritual — indulgences. They are a way of winning remission from penance — in this life or in Purgatory.

African Catholics Embrace Jubilee Year As Time for Muslim Understanding

Image via REUTERS / James Akena / RNS

Francis marked the start of the jubilee on Dec. 8, when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The yearlong celebration calls on Catholics to reflect on the theme of mercy and forgiveness and showcase a more inviting faith. That theme resonates in Africa, home to about 200 million Catholics. A sizable part of this population is tormented by war, violence from Muslim extremists, HIV/AIDS, and poverty.

Weekly Wrap 12.11.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

This week's Wrap was guest curated by Sojourners contributor Adam Ericksen. Read along for his top stories and notes from the week!

There was a lot of negativity in the news this week, but mercy also filled the airwaves. In case you missed it, here’s a list of some merciful events from the week:

1. Pope Francis Opens the Door to ‘Year of Mercy’ in a Time of Fear

Sure, we have some differences, but we’re still crushing on the Pope. “To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”

What's That Jubilee Year of Mercy the Pope Keeps Talking About?

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In the Catholic Church, a jubilee — or a holy year — is a religious event that involves the forgiveness of sins, as well as reconciliation. But the idea of a jubilee dates back to the Bible: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it,” Leviticus 25:10. For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee was a time properties were returned to their original owners or legal heirs, slaves were set free, and creditors were barred from collecting debts.

Pope Boniface VIII in 1300 declared the first Christian jubilee, beginning with the opening of the Holy Door, an entrance to St. Peter’s Basilica, usually blocked, through which pilgrims can enter. Other holy doors are also opened for this jubilee in Rome and around the world for the first time; the year ends when they are closed.

On Nov. 29 Pope Francis opened a door at the cathedral in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, as a symbolic start to the Holy Year.

The Trick, and the Treat: To Keep Giving and Receiving

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I've had the privilege of participating in a church’s Trunk-or-Treat program for kids in a low-income neighborhood in Cincinnati. Folks bring their cars and vans to the church’s parking lot and decorate them. They hand out candy to the kids, who come dressed in their costumes. There’s food and hot chocolate and books, all for free.

One regular attendee is a little boy who has no legs, so his mom pushes him around the parking lot in a wheelchair. He loves to dress like a ninja and if you ask why, he’ll go on and on about how much he loves ninjas and his costume. And how much he loves Halloween.

The kids make the route around the parking lot a few times with their bags open, getting another piece of candy and a little bit of love at each stop. Everyone enjoys the giving and the getting.

Maybe that’s what I love most about Halloween.

The God We Follow

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Jesus is the fullness of God in bodily form. Too often this point is missed. Not only do Christians overlook Jesus’ hermeneutics, but so too do we miss just how merciful he is. It seems as if his mercy is tempered by our presupposed understanding of God’s wrath and vengeance. A "theology of the cross," as Martin Luther introduced us to, is rarely considered by many of us in the West. That is tragic.

So what do I say to those who hold to a theology that includes violence?

Start everything with Jesus. Read your Bible with Jesus. Approach the Father in the same way Jesus did — as Abba. Stop "searching the scriptures" prior to coming to Jesus. He is our model in all things — in how we engage the world with grace and mercy and compassion, and in how we read our Bibles.

Jonah At Sea

Illustration by Rick Stromoski

THE MORE I READ the story of Jonah nestled among the serious Minor Prophets of the Old Testament, the more fantastic and hilarious it gets. Everything is turned upside-down.

Jonah’s story follows Amos, who rips into rich people who “lie on beds of ivory and lounge on their couches.” It precedes Micah, whose Lord calls us “to do justice and to love kindness.” But Jonah spends his energy running away from Yahweh. In fact, Jonah is never even called a prophet in the book that bears his name. His interests and concerns are completely different from the Deity who has called him. Only entombment inside a “great fish” will drive his bedraggled, stinking self to the city that needs to repent. Even so, Jonah will perceive his surprising success as an utter failure.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. Most Hebrew prophetic books are collections of oracles unmoored to narrative, but Jonah’s tale has a setting, characters, and a plot! If you didn’t learn this in children’s Sunday school, here are the bare bones of the action:

Yahweh tells a man named Jonah to go east to the city of Nineveh to cry out against its evil. But Jonah flees in the opposite direction on a ship traveling west. A huge storm blows in, so when Jonah says it’s his fault, the sailors reluctantly throw him overboard. The storm immediately stops. A “great fish” swallows Jonah for three days and nights. Then God makes the fish vomit Jonah out on dry land.

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July 2015
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Mercy Me

I STOLE MY brother’s pellet rifle when I was 6 because it was an upgrade from our old lever-action BB gun. I just wanted to hold it, to feel its heft.

I put a single pellet from a plastic tray in the chamber, the same way I had seen him do it, set the tray on the ground and cocked the gun with a click and a click. I pumped the forestock until the gun felt air-filled and lethal.

I wondered if it would hurt my shoulder. The kickback.

I leaned my head toward the barrel and closed one eye and leveled the gun at the thick canopy of a crab apple tree growing too close to the barn. The gun gave a swift exhale, and the pellet thwacked into the branches.

A second later, a red-breasted robin tumbled from the tree.

I could say I heard it thump to the ground, but that would be stretching my memory to the point of fictionalizing. I can’t remember if it made an audible sound when it hit. But I remember vividly, as clear as the buzz of this morning’s traffic, the sound of its wings swishing against the grass and forget-me-nots, and its desperate squawking, as if asking itself why its body was no longer listening to the commands of its mind, and why this sudden sharp pain in its center.

I was outside on a farm in upstate New York with a pellet gun I wasn’t supposed to touch. I had felled a bird without intention or purpose, without wanting to hurt anything. So I went to it, stood over its little fluttering body, and fumbled another pellet into the chamber, pressed the barrel to the bird, clamped my tear-filled eyes tightly closed, and pulled the trigger again.

Still, the scream, like the frantic ringing of some serrated bell. The wild flapping. The attempt to fly away from whatever invisible horror had pinned its body to the ground.

Another pellet, another pull of the trigger. And then another. And then another.

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