Pope Francis has given to the Church four major teaching documents - two
encyclical letters and two apostolic exhortations. We can add to these
his announcement of a Jubilee Year of Mercy. In each of these documents,
the pope invites us to deeper, stronger, and more authentic ways of
living our faith as friends and followers of Jesus Christ sent on
mission to bring the Gospel to the world. Consider a few examples ...
Fidei ("The Light of Faith," 6/2013) is Pope Francis' first encyclical
letter, which supplements what Pope Benedict XVI wrote on charity and
hope. In this letter, Francis calls us "to see once again that faith is a
light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to
dim. The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating
every aspect of human existence" (4).
Next from the pope's pen
came Evangelii Gaudium ("The Joy of the Gospel," 11/2013). Here he
invites "all Christians, everywhere, at this moment, to a renewed,
personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting
Him encounter them. I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day"
(#3). This encounter is the reason for joy.
Laudato Si ("On Care
for Our Common Home," 5/2015) calls the Church and the world to face
the urgency of global environmental challenges. In this summons to
conversion, the pope begins his reflections by recalling the beautiful
canticle of St. Francis of Assisi: "Praise be to you, my Lord," while
noting that St. Francis "reminds us that our common home is like a
sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her
arms to embrace us." Yet, "this sister now cries out to us because of
the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of
the goods with which God has endowed her" (1 and 2).
post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia ("The Joy of Love,"
3/2016) is the pope's monumental proclamation of the beauty of marriage
and family in God's plan. "The welfare of the family is decisive for the
future of the world and that of the Church" (31).
significant that Amoris Laetitia arrived during this Jubilee Year of
Mercy. The pope notes this timeliness, saying that Amoris Laetitia
"seeks to encourage everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness
wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy" (5). The
theme of mercy - the gift of God's compassionate, unconditional love as
well as our vocation to mirror that compassion - is a dominant one in
the Holy Father's thinking.
Consider just the titles of his
books: The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016) and The Church of
Mercy: A Vision for the Church (Loyola, 2014). While there is a very
strong, even primary accent on our need for God's forgiveness in the
sacrament of penance, the pope also calls us to accompany others along
life's journey by living the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
pope's "marching orders" to the Church are clear: living in the light
of faith, we encounter Jesus, the source of our joy. Jesus sends us on
mission to share the joy of the Gospel, to care for the earth, our
common home, and to celebrate and build up marriage and family life -
and all of this with the "logic of pastoral mercy."
grant us the grace and strength to embrace the challenge presented to us
by our Holy Father and to respond with the compassion he so beautifully
models for us.