Misericordia et Misera is the title of the new apostolic letter of Pope Francis, presented on November 21. The letter begins with a profound reflection on two evangelical texts that speak of God’s mercy: the encounter of Jesus and the adulteress (Jn 8:1-11) and the encounter of Jesus with the sinner in the house of a Pharisee (Lk 7:36-50).
At the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Francis reminds us that “we need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises. The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives. We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy. Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Phil 4:4; cf. 1 Thess 5:16).”
The Church has lived a time of grace during the Year of Mercy, which has “truly been like a new visitation of the Lord among us.” But now it is “time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy” and to remain “alive and active in the work of the new evangelization,” which is, without a doubt, a vital part of the Vincentian charism, too.
The Pope encourages us, in the first points of his letter, to “celebrate mercy,” to intensely experience the mercy that is offered to us through sacramental life, listening to the Word of God, reading and spreading the Bible, and celebrating mercy especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
“The Jubilee now ends and the Holy Door is closed. But the door of mercy of our heart continues to remain wide open.” This invitation to continue sharing the mercy of God is a call to “imitate him in bending down to our brothers and sisters,” placing us on the “path of charity, which we are called to travel daily with fidelity and joy.”
We should not separate our lives from those who are suffering unjust situations. Our vocation, as Christians and Vincentians, is to be with those who suffer, those who live near us and also those in other parts of the world. Our charity, our love must be particular and universal:
In our own day, whole peoples suffer hunger and thirst, and we are haunted by pictures of children with nothing to eat. Throngs of people continue to migrate from one country to another in search of food, work, shelter and peace. Disease in its various forms is a constant cause of suffering that cries out for assistance, comfort and support. Prisons are often places where confinement is accompanied by serious hardships due to inhumane living conditions. Illiteracy remains widespread, preventing children from developing their potential and exposing them to new forms of slavery. The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others. Today many people have no experience of God himself, and this represents the greatest poverty and the major obstacle to recognition of the inviolable dignity of human life.
To conclude, the corporal and spiritual works of mercy continue in our own day to be proof of mercy’s immense positive influence as a social value. Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters who, with us, are called to build a “city which is reliable.”
We must, therefore, strive with renewed energy “to devise specific and responsible ways of practicing charity and the works of mercy;” making effective our love, as Saint Vincent de Paul said; this is what Pope Francis asks of us: “Being unemployed or not receiving a sufficient salary; not being able to have a home or a land in which to live; experiencing discrimination on account of one’s faith, race or social status: these are just a few of the many examples of situations that attack the dignity of the person. In the face of such attacks, Christian mercy responds above all with vigilance and solidarity.” Mercy has a marked social character that obliges us “not to not simply stand by and do nothing. It requires us to banish indifference and hypocrisy […] so that justice and a dignified life are not just beautiful words, but constitute the concrete commitment of all Who want to witness to the presence of the kingdom of God.”
The apostolic letter concludes by instituting a World Day of the Poor:
During the “Jubilee for Socially Excluded People,” as the Holy Doors of Mercy were being closed in all the cathedrals and shrines of the world, I had the idea that, as yet another tangible sign of this Extraordinary Holy Year, the entire Church might celebrate, on the Thirty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, the World Day of the Poor. This would be the worthiest way to prepare for the celebration of the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, who identified with the little ones and the poor and who will judge us on our works of mercy (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
With the message of this letter, Vincentians have much to think about and, above all, to put into practice. We encourage you to read it quietly, personally or in community, and discuss its content, with these questions, if they can serve as guidance:
- How have we lived the Year of Mercy in our surroundings? Have we been faithful to the call of Pope Francis during this year?
- After reading the letter “Misericordia et Misera,” what points would we highlight as most important?
- How could we put them into practice in our local communities?
- How can we concretize charity and enlighten intelligently our works for the most needy?
- What does Pope Francis ask us— we who live in the Vincentian charism— to do from now on?
You can read the letter online by clicking here.