I am sure I am alone but Pope Francis high profiling of 'mercy' has caused me to think about my own being merciful and the extent of God's mercy. It is infinite but it is not unconditional, if we accept his mercy then heaven is ours. That has been the extent of much of our preaching for the last few years, except of course we have not not used the word 'mercy', we have spoken just of 'love'. 'Mercy' is different, God's 'love' tends to be interpreted through a rather human lens, we are familiar with love, we see it in our own relationships or yearn for it in our hearts. When we think of God's love we tend to empty God of his divinity, we are no longer able to distinguish or understand the of a superior for an inferior, the difference in the love of a Father for a child, or of a Lord for his people.
Love tends to suggest something between equals, mercy however is something given by someone who is powerful to someone who acknowledges their weakness. Love which more often than not tends to be seen in passive terms - as a state of being, mercy however is about inequality, it is something which is given but may be withheld.
Asking for mercy is risky, it involves the risk of rejection, it involves a response from the supplicant, 'if you show me mercy then I will ...'. Mercy has consequences, either we accept it and change or we live without and that has consequences too.
It is interesting that Pope Francis rarely speaks of God's love. Mercy implies an offence, a need for forgiveness, an escape from the consequences of not accepting that 'mercy'. The other thing Francis speaks of, though generally separately from mercy is 'the devil'. For Christians the non acceptance of God's mercy hell.
One of my parishioners sent me a link to this article, 'Why are we so afraid of Hell' in which the author says:
As I’ve taught classes and given talks on the “New Evangelization,” I’ve been struck at how both Jesus and the apostles make a regular part of their message not only the positive proclamation of the Good News that Christ has, by his sacrifice, won redemption for the whole world, but also the terrible consequences of neglecting such an offer: namely, hell.Any talk of 'mercy' in a Christian context implies that the failure to accept God's mercy are pretty dire. Speaking of 'love' with its present 'hippy' ramifications makes 'hell' the four letter word which causes most preachers to do more than hesitate.
I have resolved to try and not talk about God's 'love' but to speak of his 'mercy', I suspect Francis has made the same resolution, whether he will start using the 'four letter word' as often he uses 'mercy', I doubt it, the media are too likely to supply image from some horror film but the implications are pretty obvious.