(14) Life is a pilgrimage, says Pope Francis. Being merciful as God is merciful is a spiritual pilgrimage, marked by the movement spelled out by Jesus in Luke 6:37-38: non-judgment, no condemnation, and forgiveness.
The first step in becoming merciful is refraining from judgment–of anyone. Why? At least four reasons: (1) Our judgment of someone else is always imperfect, (2) Our judgment usually fails to include what is good in the other person, (3) Our judgment operates using harsher standards than we normally apply to ourselves, and (4) When we judge, we engage in a practice that is reserved for God alone. To avoid these deceits in ourselves and to avoid the entrapment of others, we must obey Jesus’ exhortation: “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1).
The second step in becoming merciful is expressing no condemnation toward anyone. Condemnation is the result of judgmentalism. Armed with the (limited and even erroneous) evaluations which judgmentalism affords us, we easily move into condemnation. And we feel justified (on the basis of the judgment we have made) to issue the condemnation–usually “in the name of God” and doing so as “God’s representatives.” Pope Francis says clearly that we are not to do this–we are not to condemn.
If, however, we judge and condemn, we never get to the third step: forgiveness–at least not forgiveness rooted in compassion. Judgmentalism and condemnation make forgiveness conditional–based on what the judged and condemned person does (e.g. repent) to “prove” to us that he/she is now “worthy” of our forgiveness.
Pope Francis sweeps all this away with a marked simplicity in which he simply tells us not to live this way–we are not to live with judgmentalism, condemnation, and withheld forgiveness. This is not the way of mercy. It is not how God relates to us in our sinfulness. It is not how we are meant to relate to others.
Instead, the way of mercy is non-judgment, no condemnation, and forgiveness. When we walk this path and take these steps, we walk into mercy.
[Note: the numbers at the beginning of each meditation correspond to the section of the Pope’s document on which it is based]