Message of mercy continues in example of Christ the King

Tiziana Fabi | Reuters
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VATICAN CITY — Following Christ the King, whose regal power is love and mercy, means the whole Church and each Christian must "follow his way of tangible love," Pope Francis said.

Celebrating the feast of Christ the King Nov. 20 and officially closing the extraordinary jubilee celebration of the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis declared, "we have received mercy in order to be merciful."

On a warm, late fall morning, St. Peter's Square was filled with an estimated 70,000 people for the Mass, which was concelebrated by the new cardinals Pope Francis had created the previous day.

The pope and the new cardinals first went to the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica and gave thanks for "the gifts of grace received" during the Holy Year. Pope Francis then went to the threshold of the Holy Door and pulled each side shut. The door will be sealed until the next Holy Year, which is likely to be 2025.

In his homily, Pope Francis said that even if the Holy Door is closed, "the true door of mercy, which is the heart of Christ, always remains open wide for us."

The power of Christ the King, he said, "is not power as defined by this world, but the love of God, a love capable of encountering and healing all things."

Like the "good thief" who turned to Jesus on the cross and was assured a place in heaven, anyone who turns to God with trust can be forgiven, the pope said. "He is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because his memory — unlike our own — does not record evil that has been done or keep score of injustices experienced."

Loving like Christ loves us, he said, means constantly seeking the grace to forgive others, forget the offenses committed and be instruments of reconciliation in the world.

Following Christ the King also means accepting "the scandal of his humble love," which can be difficult because it "unsettles and disturbs us."

Christ's love, the love Christians are called to imitate, is concrete and tangible and is not concerned with personal comfort, power and superiority.

'Misericordia et Misera'

"Mercy cannot become a mere parenthesis in the life of the Church," the pope wrote in an apostolic letter, "Misericordia et Misera," ("Mercy and Misery"), which he signed Nov. 20 at the end of the Year of Mercy. The Vatican released the text the next day.

The Catholic Church's focus on God's mercy must continue with individual acts of kindness, assistance to the poor and, particularly, with encouraging Catholics to participate in the sacrament of reconciliation and making it easier for them to do so, the pope wrote.

In his letter, Pope Francis said he formally was giving all priests permanent permission to grant absolution to those who confess to having procured an abortion. While many bishops around the world, and almost all bishops in the United States, routinely grant that faculty to all their priests, Pope Francis had made it universal during the Holy Year.

According to canon law, procuring an abortion brings automatic excommunication to those who know of the penalty, but procure the abortion anyway. Without formal permission, priests had been required to refer the case to their bishops before the excommunication could be lifted and sacramental absolution could be granted to a woman who had an abortion or those directly involved in the procedure.

"I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life," the pope wrote. "In the same way, however, I can and must state that there is no sin that God's mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father."

The pope also formally extended the provision he made during the Year of Mercy of recognizing as valid the sacramental absolution received by "those faithful who, for various reasons, attend churches officiated by the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X," the traditionalist society founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

The title of the document is taken from a sermon by St. Augustine about Jesus' encounter with the woman caught in adultery. After those who wanted to stone her slinked away, only Jesus and the woman — mercy and misery — remained.

"Our life, with its joys and sorrows, is something unique and unrepeatable that takes place under the merciful gaze of God," Pope Francis said. In counseling couples priests must use "a careful, profound and far-sighted spiritual discernment, so that everyone, none excluded, can feel accepted by God, participate actively in the life of the community and be part of that People of God which journeys tirelessly toward the fullness of his kingdom of justice, love, forgiveness and mercy."

"Nothing of what a repentant sinner places before God's mercy can be excluded from the embrace of his forgiveness," the pope wrote. "For this reason, none of us has the right to make forgiveness conditional." 

Visit www.archstl.org/mercy to watch several videos and find more resources about God's mercy.

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