Hot off the press from Loyola Press, The Church of Mercy: A Vision for the Church by Pope Francis is a beautiful book, full of joy, hope and confidence in the unfailing love of God. It's a message sorely needed in our times. It's a message, however, that comes with a challenge to give up our own personal agendas and take ownership of the agenda that Christ has given each of us at our baptism.
Pope Francis' pastoral message is that there is hope - for everyone, most especially sinners - in Jesus Christ, and because God is patient, loving and merciful to us, we should be so with one another - especially to the poor and the stranger. We are called to come out of ourselves, abandon our will to that of Christ and simply serve - telling others about Jesus in word and deed - never afraid to show our hope and joy in the process.
We are asked to be an antidote to the evils of the culture by bringing that message out of the walls of churches to the very margins of life, in solidarity with those who have been pushed there - "to the outskirts of existence." We are called to sensitize the world to the poor and the "uprooted" - refugees - "those who are obliged to flee their own country and exist between rootlessness and integration."
Francis' vision of a "Church of Mercy" is in tune with the social justice teachings of the Church - one that reaches out in love to the poor, the unwanted and those who suffer, in Jesus' name. Our motivation for that, he says comes from our confident trust that God has already reached out in love to us. When we are able to abandon ourselves to Jesus, we will become a Church that fills the world with his love, one that is not afraid to testify to the message that God loves us all.
But, Francis tells us, before we do any of this we have to let go of our cultural idols - power, violence, money, and yes, clergy careerism - to be "free from personal projects" and ambition. The Church must "divest herself of the danger of worldliness." It is that, he says that kills the Church - and the person. Once we let go, we will be free to choose the good and to become, like Mary, people of "listening, decision and action."
This is quite simply a "must read" book for every Catholic, lay and clergy alike. It proposes a reformed Church much closer to Jesus's intentions and asks us to steer away from worldly trappings - inner and outer - that prevent us from abandoning ourselves to Jesus's call to embrace the love of God and spend ourselves for the sake of others, sharing that love. This is how Francis explains why he himself has chosen not to wear full papal regalia, but to don simpler garb and go out into the world as often as he can, seeking the lost and the broken. This is the Pope Francis who washed the feet of the disabled on Holy Thursday - Christian and Muslim, men and women - serving as an example, he is the very model of what he calls the Church to become.
Make no mistake. This is not just a "feel-good" book about the warm fuzziness of God's love. It is a real challenge to abandon ourselves to that love.
OK - Here is The BIG Giveaway!
You can win a FREE copy of this marvelous book from Loyola Press. Make a comment here on the blog between now and Tuesday, April 29th and I will pick one out of a hat. Be sure to include your name and an obvious way to find you when you "choose your identity" for the comment box. I will announce the winner on the blog on April 30th. Thanks for reading!