Observing the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday at Mass at Saint Peter’s Basilica on the 10th of February, in Rome, Pope Francis commissioned hundreds of ‘Missionaries of Mercy,’ as a sign to the People of God of a Mercy, as a ‘mystery so fundamental to the faith.’ As Missionaries of Mercy, chosen Priests have been given the authority to pardon “even those sins reserved to the Holy See,” and to go forth as “living signs of the Father’s readiness to welcome those in search of his pardon.”
A half-century ago, the Spirit of the Vatican Council at the passing through the Holy Door was expressed in an invocation by Blessed Paul VI that each of us be committed to our making in our own lives ‘the mercy of the Good Samaritan.” It is the continuation of this that Pope Francis invoked also, in his opening of the Holy Door on the 8th of December, explaining that the gift of grace in this Extraordinary Year is a rediscovery of “the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone,” and whose Spirit goes out to each individual in a personal encounter each in his or her own way.
Marking the outset of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Holy Father explained further, in the official document, with a reference to Augustine’s De Praedestinatione Sanctorum:
How much wrong we do to God and his grace when we speak of sins being punished by his judgment before we speak of their being forgiven by his mercy. … But that is the truth. We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgement will always be in the light of his mercy.
In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love, of tenderness. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.
Pope Francis acknowledges the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, who opened to the world to the men and women of this time and place to experience something that signified an advancement of faith:
A genuine encounter between the Church and the men and women of our time. An encounter marked by the power of the Spirit, who impelled the Church to emerge from the shoals which for years had kept her self-enclosed so as to set out once again, with enthusiasm, on her missionary journey. It was the resumption of a journey of encountering people where they live: in their cities and homes, in their workplaces. Wherever there are people, the Church is called to reach out to them and to bring the joy of the Gospel, and the mercy and forgiveness of God.
Like Plato – especially in light of his interpretation six centuries thereafter by Plotinus – Augustine of Hippo (St. Augustine. Christian Bishop and theologian) believed that the interactions among men and women in their habitat, and between themselves and God, could be thought of as three basic principles, which he referred to as: ‘The One’ (or ‘the Good’), the ‘Intellect,’ and the ‘Soul,’
In the Pope’s reference to ‘predestination’ in the theological treatise of Augustine, as with Plotinus, as well, the term itself implies a kind of unifying grace that will eventually allow for the ‘reuniting’ of mankind with God. just as an acorn is predestined to become an oak. It is in this unique expression that we are able to discover the context of mankind’s relationship to God (‘the One,’ to that which is ‘Good,’) in the extraordinary process of redemption; through the presence of a truly contrite heart that allows any man or woman to receive forgiveness, through the mercy of God.
For Plotinus, the presence of ‘Evil’ in the world is less a positive reality and more of an absence of that which is Good, which some have expressed as ‘the lack of being’ itself, in the way that cold is the deprivation of heat – and in the extreme, in the physics, minus 273 degrees Celsius is defined as Zero kelvin (−273.15°C) or absolute zero.
As Brandon Peterson, professor of religious studies at the University of Utah, has expressed in his section of Free Will and the Problem of Evil, in his essay “Augustine: Advocate of Free Will, Defender of Predestination” in the Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Notre Dame:
“The relationship between God and mankind has been one of distress and apparent contradiction. The story of the Fall in the third chapter of Genesis gives an account of our present existence, which is marked by the fundamental separation of man and his Creator, each of whom reside on a different side of a barrier of sin. The barrier, which Genesis tells us was built by Adam’s fault, poses two major issues for the Judeo-Christian tradition. The first is that the side on which man resides, removed from the source of goodness and fulfillment, is permeated by evil, suffering, and sin.
An archetypal question arising from this situation is how God, who is both omnipotent and maximally good, can permit the existence of such evil, and furthermore, how evil can even exist since the beneficent Creator is the source of all. The second profound issue concerns the reunification of God and man.”
In the homily of his Mass, the Holy Father explained that the Readings from Ash Wednesday’s liturgy involved two invitations for humankind:
“The Word of God, at the beginning of our Lenten journey, offers two invitations to the Church and to each one of us. The first is that of Saint Paul: “Be reconciled to God.” .
The second invitation, the Pontiff said, is a related one, taken from the prophet Joel, as God says: “Return to me with your whole heart.”
Pope Francis is the author of “The Name of God is Mercy,” translated by Oonagh Stransky, released this time last month, in conjunction with the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. In this book, as the press release from Random House suggests, the Holy Father “invites all humanity to an intimate and personal dialogue on the subject closest to his heart—mercy—which has long been the cornerstone of his faith and is now the central teaching of his papacy.”