Fourth Sunday of Lent – 10 March 2024

John’s Gospel illustrates the depth of God’s love for humanity and the radical nature of divine mercy. This passage, which includes the well-known verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”, emphasizes that it is not humanity’s love for God, our good deeds, or even our belief in God that is the foundation of our salvation, but rather, it is God’s immense love for us. This love is so profound that it led to the ultimate act of mercy: the giving of His only Son for the salvation of the world.

In reflecting on this, a critical question arises, especially for church leaders: What are the implications of understanding and embodying this kind of radical divine mercy in their ministries? This passage challenges traditional notions of merit and worthiness in the context of divine love and grace. It presents a God who loves unconditionally and who extends mercy not as a reward for good behaviour, but as a free gift borne out of profound love.

For leaders in the Church, this underscores the call to be agents of this same indiscriminate and unconditional mercy. It challenges them to look beyond the confines of law, doctrine, and tradition, and to embrace a more inclusive and compassionate approach that mirrors God’s love for all people. This approach can sometimes seem at odds with established norms or expectations within the Church, leading to the provocative question: “Can a Pope (and a God) be too merciful?” (Taken from a headline in La Croix International)

This question touches on a fundamental tension within Christian theology and ecclesiology. On one hand, there is the recognition of God’s boundless mercy, a mercy that transcends human understanding and conventions. On the other hand, there is the human endeavour to interpret and institutionalize this mercy within the structures and doctrines of the Church. This tension can sometimes create discomfort or even conflict within the Church, especially when the expressions of mercy challenge longstanding practices or beliefs.

In contemplating whether a Pope or any church leader can be “too merciful,” it is essential to revisit the core message of the Gospel – that God’s love and mercy are not constrained by human standards. This radical mercy was exemplified in the life and teachings of Jesus, who consistently reached out to those on the margins of society, challenged societal norms, and offered forgiveness and inclusion where others preached condemnation and exclusion.

Church leaders, in striving to be true to the Gospel, are called to emulate this radical mercy. This may require courageously re-examining and, where necessary, reinterpreting traditional teachings and practices in light of the fundamental Gospel message of unconditional love and grace. It challenges them and us to be bearers of hope, especially to those who feel excluded or marginalized by the Church.

The Gospel of John reminds us that God’s love and mercy are at the heart of the Christian faith. For Church leaders and communities, this means being open to the movement of the Spirit, which may call for a merciful approach that transcends conventional boundaries and expectations, reflecting the boundless nature of God’s love and mercy.

Fr Stephen Berecz

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