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Show some mercy

Pope Francis doesn’t like to embarrass his audiences. But last week he asked devout members of the Cursillo movement to raise their hands if they didn’t know the Works of Mercy. When the vast majority of hands shot up, the Pope said: “Look at that! There’s work to be done… This is your homework: learn them to put them into practice.” We won’t embarrass readers by asking whether they, too, have some homework to do. Most, perhaps, know that the seven corporal works are feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, giving drink to the thirsty and burying the dead; and that the seven spiritual works are converting sinners, instructing the ignorant, advising the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving injuries and praying for the living and dead. What’s the point of learning these 14 works by rote? The most compelling reason is that Jesus himself said we will be judged on our response to them (Matthew 25:34-46). As Francis put it in Misericordiae Vultus, the bull proclaiming a Year of Mercy: “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged.”

The second reason is that if we don’t know the Works of Mercy it is difficult to practise them consistently. That’s why Francis urged those with their hands up to “learn them to put them into practice”. The Pope is likely to repeat this appeal throughout the Year of Mercy, which begins on December 8. For as he

The Works of Mercy could unite us in relieving the suffering of those around us explained in Misericordiae Vultus, he has a “burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual Works of Mercy”.

Clearly, Francis sees the Works of Mercy as more than a merely personal endeavour; he believes they also have a strong communal dimension. Could the Church in England and Wales formally adopt the Works of Mercy as its programme for the Year of Mercy? After all, the works appeal to all Catholics, regardless of where they sit on the ecclesial spectrum. They are both traditional and radical. They promote both activism and contemplation. They could unite us in a common goal: relieving the unfathomable physical and spiritual suffering of those around us. It would be hard to think of a better national vision for the Church in this country.

It’s not just the Church that would benefit. Britain as a whole would, too. Of course, some would regard it as naive to respond to 21st-century problems with a programme created in the first. But the Works of Mercy address perennial human difficulties. Food banks show that we still need to feed the hungry. A stroll along our high streets reveals the homeless who need to be housed. Hospitals and prisons are full of those longing for just one visitor. Many, meanwhile, live in a state of spiritual anguish that could be alleviated by the spiritual Works of Mercy.

If we pursue the Works of Mercy it will transform our lives, our communities and our nation. We have nothing to lose and so much to gain.

e martyrs are uniting Christians

When Pope Francis met Lutheran bishop Antje Jackelén of Uppsala on Monday, he declared that Catholics and Lutherans were not in competition with each other but rather “brothers and sisters in the faith”. His statement may have raised eyebrows among conservative Catholics and Protestants, but it will have caused nothing like the outrage created by Blessed Paul VI when he referred to the Church of England as “our dear sister church”.

As St John Paul II and Benedict XVI were quick to clarify, no Anglican community can be regarded as a Church with a capital “C” since Rome does not regard Anglican bishops – male or female – as part of the apostolic succession. Pope Francis is well aware of this, though it is not his style to dwell on “confessional differences”, as he described them this week.

This is partly because he does not think they can be resolved in the foreseeable future. But this sensible insight does not mean that he is not an ecumenist. On the contrary, he is as radically committed to the unity of Christians as any of his predecessors.

The Holy Father believes that Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants have more important priorities than reaching a consensus – which would immediately fall apart – on the nature of the sacraments. Their first duty is to save their souls by living as well as preaching the Gospel. This means upholding the dignity of human life, both born and unborn, and devoting their lives to the poor and suffering.

Significantly, the Pope used his address to remind us yet again that the persecution of Christians has reached undreamt-of levels in the 21st century. This, not the (admittedly crucially important) question of the validity of episcopal orders, should preoccupy us all, irrespective of our theological beliefs.

For if Christians of every variety cannot work together to halt the current atrocities, then there is little point in them talking to each other at all.


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