The path of mercy
In the coming months, responses to Pope Francis’ new encyclical on the environment and to the initiatives that will emerge from this October’s Synod on the Family will shape the contours of our new moment of kairos. Clearly the institutional model of church still attracts many bishops as well as many of the faithful. Will their resistance nullify Francis’ initiatives? The choice of the model of church will have far-reaching implications. Opting for the church as a “perfect society” stresses order, continuity and authority. That model resists change and is hostile to dialogue. A well known cardinal whose signature outfit is a cappa magna has warned the world that Pope Francis’ papacy is like a ship without a rudder; from him and from others like him we will be hearing loud and lofty warnings not to abandon the past. By contrast, the model of the church as a people of God on pilgrimage stresses solidarity, creativity, and mercy. For the sake of embracing the uninitiated, the poor and the skeptical, this model dares to put Gospel images ahead of canons and customs. Pope Francis is articulating the consequences of Vatican II’s option to enter fully into dialogue with the world around us. The council enunciated the mutual enrichment provided by the church’s relation to the world.5 The Gospel of Mercy is not a project for some alternative universe. It is for here and now, especially for our world that is in crisis.