Douglas Roche


March 7, 2016

On a recent vacation, I took with me Pope Francis' new book, The Name of God Is Mercy, an intimate and direct appeal to humanity today, which is searching for the road to peace and reconciliation. "Where there is mercy, justice is more just," says Francis.

The pope ends the book with a modern application of the seven corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.

"I do not think there is much to explain," the pope says drily. "And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us."

The homeless, the hungry, the marginalized, the refugees - all these in their multitudes today remind us with every newscast of the political disorder in the world.

So we chip away at the problem of suffering with well-intentioned aid programs whether run internationally by UN agencies or in our own parish. This work, based mostly on charity towards the dispossessed and vulnerable, is absolutely necessary and those who engage in it should be commended. What kind of world would we have if many good people did not engage in acts of compassion and kindness?

But the fullness of mercy that I envision extends wider and deeper than dealing with casualties of modern civilization. To be truly merciful and compassionate, we must examine the causes of destitution and hopelessness. Here again, Pope Francis has given us a leadership so lacking in the political world today.

The reason his encyclical Laudato Si' received world-wide attention was because he struck a nerve when he said, "It is possible that we do not grasp the gravity of the challenges now before us."

The immense power of modern technology rewards those at the top of the economic scale but leaves countless numbers behind. I am talking here not just of the so-called gap between developed and developing countries but of the alienation felt by many in advanced societies who feel they cannot keep up.

Look no further than the angry backlash now being directed to the political establishment in the United States for an example of what I mean.

"Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan," says the pope, thus giving a modern formulation to the Holy See's call for social justice dating back to the 19th century. The stakes today are high, with revived militarism, resource (including water) scarcity and record numbers of refugees all colliding in a dangerous cauldron of conflict.


There is an urgent need of a true world political authority to establish the ground rules for common security on the planet. It is not just the popes who have been saying this. Distinguished international commissions over the past 30 years have sketched the framework for a common security agenda.

This means arms control and disarmament agreements, particularly the abolition of nuclear weapons; environmental protection, especially enforceable reductions of carbon emissions; economic and social development as outlined in the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals; the full implementation of human rights, including the human right to peace. This is the agenda for peace that the United Nations is trying to advance.

At the centre of this agenda is the recognition of the integrity of all human life. This is a spiritual and moral issue. It forces us to think of the nature of our humanity and the relationship of humanity to the earth.

We often hear the cry, "The Church must not get involved in politics." That may be true in a partisan sense, but the message of the Gospel - of which the framework for common security is but the modern expression - must imbue the public policy process.


So our consciences have to be awakened, and it seems to me that dwelling on the full meaning of "mercy," as Pope Francis has asked us to do in this jubilee year, helps us to enlarge our vision of what is required for reconciliation in today's world.

At the conclusion of his book on mercy, Francis reminds us that we need to augment the corporal works of mercy with the spiritual works of mercy: teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, console the afflicted, forgive offences, advise those in doubt, be patient with annoying people, and pray for the living and the dead.

The pope is telling us: be merciful to a person in distress, yes. But find out what is causing the distress and, prayerfully, do something about it.