Mercy at Christmas

Since no one will receive this newspaper on the date listed on the masthead, we nonetheless wish you a blessed Christmas, whether you receive this edition a day early or during the “12 Days of Christmas” (which do not begin 12 days before December 25, regardless of what radio stations and other businesses claim).

What is the greatest gift we could give or receive for Christmas (or on any day)? Mercy would be a good answer, since mercy is tied in with love.

Pope Francis gave his Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia this Monday. These greetings by the Argentine pope have sometimes been like getting some coal in one’s stocking. However, the Holy Father explained that he offers them tied to God’s gift of mercy. “Last year, as a preparation for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we spoke of certain temptations or maladies — the catalogue of curial diseases.” So, he didn’t offer criticisms so as to ruin their Christmas, but to make it better Spiritually.

For this year’s greetings, he said, “I would like to speak about ‘curial antibiotics’ — which could affect any Christian, curia, community, congregation, parish or ecclesial movement, diseases which call for prevention, vigilance, care and, sadly, in some cases, painful and prolonged interventions.” So, although he was speaking to the curia, his prescription could be good medicine for all of us.

The pope borrowed from an acrostic for the word “mercy” (misericordia) from Father Matteo Ricci, S.J., the famous evangelizer of China from the 1500s and 1600s. We share these points here for our own meditation.

“Missionary and pastoral spirit: faith is a gift, yet the measure of our faith is also seen by the extent to which we communicate it. All baptized persons are missionaries of the Good News, above all by their lives, their work and their witness of joy and conviction.

“Idoneity and sagacity: idoneity, or suitability, entails personal effort aimed at acquiring the necessary requisites for exercising as best we can our tasks and duties with intelligence and insight. Idoneity and sagacity also represent our human response to Divine grace, when we let ourselves follow the famous dictum: ‘Do everything as if God did not exist and then put it all in God’s hands as if you did not exist.’ 

“Spirituality and humanity: Spirituality is the backbone of all service in the Church and in the Christian life. It is what nourishes all our activity, sustaining and protecting it from human frailty and daily temptation. Humanity is what embodies the truthfulness of our faith; Humanity is what makes us different from machines and robots which feel nothing and are never moved.

“Example and fidelity: Blessed Paul VI reminded the curia — in 1963 — of ‘its calling to set an example.’ An example of avoiding scandals which harm souls and impair the credibility of our witness. Fidelity to our consecration, to our vocation, always mindful of the words of Christ, ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much’ (Lk 16:10).

“Reasonableness and gentleness: reasonableness helps avoid emotional excesses, while gentleness helps avoid an excess of bureaucracy, programs and planning. These qualities are necessary for a balanced personality: ‘The enemy — and forgive me for quoting St. Ignatius once again — pays careful heed to whether a soul is coarse or delicate; if it is delicate, he finds a way to make it overly delicate, in order to cause it greater distress and confusion.’ Every excess is a symptom of some imbalance, be it an excess of reasoning or of delicateness.

“Innocuousness and determination: innocuousness makes us cautious in our judgments and capable of refraining from impulsive and hasty actions. It is the ability to bring out the best in ourselves, in others and in all kinds of situations by acting carefully and attentively. It consists of doing unto others what we would have them do to us (cf. Mt 7:12 and Lk 6:31). Determination is acting with a resolute will, clear vision, obedience to God and solely for the supreme law of the salus animarum (cf. CIC can. 1725).

“Charity and truth: two inseparable virtues of the Christian life, ‘speaking the truth in charity and practicing charity in truth’ (cf. Eph 4:15). To the point where charity without truth becomes a destructive ideology of complaisance and truth without charity becomes myopic legalism.

“Openness and maturity: openness is honesty and rectitude, consistency and absolute sincerity with regard to ourselves and to God. An honest and open person does not act virtuously only when he or she is being watched; honest persons have no fear of being caught, since they never betray the trust of others. Maturity is the quest to achieve balance and harmony in our physical, mental and Spiritual gifts.

“Respectfulness and humility: respectfulness is an endowment of those noble and tactful souls who always try to show genuine respect for others, for their own work, for their superiors and subordinates, for confidentiality and privacy, who can listen carefully and speak politely. Humility is the virtue of the saints and those godly persons who become all the more important as they come to realize that they are nothing, and can do nothing, apart from God’s grace (cf. Jn 15:8).

“Diligence and attentiveness: the more we trust in God and His providence, the more we grow in diligence and readiness to give of ourselves, in the knowledge that the more we give the more we receive. What good would it do to open all the Holy Doors of all the basilicas in the world if the doors of our own heart are closed to love, if our hands are closed to giving, if our homes are closed to hospitality and our churches to welcome and acceptance? Attentiveness is concern for the little things, for doing our best and never yielding to our vices and failings. St. Vincent de Paul used to pray: ‘Lord, help me to be always aware of those around me, those who are worried or dismayed, those suffering in silence, and those who feel alone and abandoned.’

“Intrepidness and alertness: being intrepid means fearlessness in the face of troubles, like Daniel in the den of lions, or David before Goliath. Alertness, on the other hand, is the ability to act freely and easily, without being attached to fleeting material things.

“Accountability and sobriety, finally: accountable and trustworthy persons are those who honor their commitments with seriousness and responsibility when they are being observed, but above all when they are alone; they radiate a sense of tranquility because they never betray a trust. Sobriety — the last virtue on this list, but not because it is least important — is the ability to renounce what is superfluous and to resist the dominant consumerist mentality. Sobriety is prudence, simplicity, straightforwardness, balance and temperance. Sobriety is seeing the world through God’s eyes and from the side of the poor.”

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts