Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
September 22, 2008
Mother of Mercy gives a kiss to justice
Prior to the Revolution, the Church in France had been infected by Jansenism, a harsh spirituality that saw humans as depraved and God as merciless. Perhaps Jansenism even helped create the revolution – if people felt they could not find mercy from God, at least they could seek justice from the state.
The quest for justice and equality brought the Reign of Terror and the fire of anti-clericalism. There was a lesson here for those with ears to hear. The lesson was simple: There can be no justice without mercy.
But where was mercy to be found? In 1858, as anti-clericalism continued to burn, France got its answer in a little, out-of-the-way village in the Pyrenees. Mercy would be found with Mary, the mother of mercy. Mary brought God's message of mercy and love to Bernadette Soubirous near the town of Lourdes.
The apparitions at Lourdes did not solve the political problems of the day. But they did provide the antidote. The antidote to too much "justice" is the gentle, loving heart of Mary.
Pope Benedict's Sept. 13-15 trip to Lourdes is a living witness to the fact that devotion to Mary is not a distraction from the vital task of building a better world. It is the necessary foundation for that task.
The pope went to France to soften the hard edges of secularism, and to encourage us to pray to Mary and be like her. He also called for more vocations to the priesthood.
What is the priesthood but a living commitment to the Eucharist, the centre of love? What is the priesthood but a sign of God's self-giving love for his people?
The priest is not an agent of political change, but an instrument of God's reconciliation. When there is division and a compulsion for "justice," the priest can be a source of healing and acceptance.
Little wonder that so many priests are devoted to Mary. She is the mother of mercy, the mercy that the priest embodies in a divided world.
In his 1980 encyclical, Rich in Mercy, Pope John Paul II talked about the Mother of Mercy. No one knows more about God's mercy than Mary does, Pope John Paul said, because no one knows better than she the great price God paid to give us his mercy.
"No one has experienced, to the same degree as the mother of the crucified one, the mystery of the cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that ‘kiss' given by mercy to justice," the pope wrote.
France is sometimes called the most secular country in the world. If so, Canada is not far behind. Secularism means the attempt to build a good world without the help of the grace of God. It is the vain belief that humanity can have justice without the kiss that divine mercy gives to justice.
This kiss softens justice. It personalizes justice in a way that government programs and the strict apportioning of available resources can never do. The kiss of mercy is the love of a mother.
Society is horribly distorted when we seek justice without our mother, especially our heavenly mother. It becomes distorted when we believe that it is up to the government and the courts to provide justice and we accept no responsibility for offering mercy.
Pope Benedict spoke of Mary as "the image of the new humanity." In the first place, that is because in Mary we see our future transfiguration in glory. But it is also because the new humanity must live in this world. This new humanity is not manufactured by political ideology. Rather, it grows out of our dedication to charity, the love of God.
It is election time in Canada. We should give that election our utmost attention. But we should – at all times – be attentive to the call to charity, to mercy. For it is on the basis of mercy that true justice will be born.
- Glen Argan
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.