Year of Mercy: Amnesia

(11)  Henri Nouwen once remarked that the great danger in the spiritual life is amnesia–forgetting the very things God would have us remember.  Pope Francis would surely agree, as in this section of his writing, he cites similar words from Saint Pope John Paul II, who wrote of the Church’s forgetfulness with respect to mercy.

The problem, however, is that when we experience spiritual amnesia, our minds do not go blank.  Rather, we fill the emptiness with something else–usually the opposite of what we have forgotten.

When we forget mercy, we remember meritocracy.  We forget grace, and we enthrone works–measurable things to determine who is “in” and who is “out.”  Forgetting mercy, we are left to take our cue from the fallen-world culture that defines justice retributively rather than restoratively.  Exclusion is now justifiable–even preferable.

When we reach this point in our degeneration (as Saint Pope John Paul II also noted and Pope Francis confirms), the very idea of mercy makes us uncomfortable because we are no longer in charge of defining “in” and “out”–precisely because the very concept of insider/outsider no longer applies in a merciful Church or world.  Domination (actual or attitudinal) in any form cannot exist where mercy prevails.

So, Pope Francis uses the words of a former Pope whom he knew and served to reinforce his call for what we might call a healing of our memory–a healing that remembers mercy and in that remembrance moves forward in the fruit of the Spirit dispelling darkness, bringing light, and offering life.

[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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