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Pope Francis, Mercy, Dialogue and Easter

By Andy Alexander, S.J.
The writer is Vice Provost for University Ministry at Creighton University

We have recently celebrated the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. His actions and messages have offered an exciting renewal for the Catholic Church as well as signs of hope for many in the world. He told the cardinals preparing to elect a new pope that the Church is “too self-referential.” He decided to dress more simply and to live in an apartment, rather than the Apostolic Palace. He washed the feet of youth in a detention center, including two women and two Muslims. He’s done and said many things which have stirred us and challenged us to imitate him.

Recently, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Cardinal Archbishop of Boston and one of eight cardinals chosen to be on a new advisory group, called Pope Francis “the quintessential Jesuit.” O’Malley admired how the Holy Father comes out of the tradition of St. Ignatius of Loyola of finding intimacy with God in all things, being a contemplative in action. At the heart of Pope Francis’ spirituality is a sense of being a loved sinner, called by God to join Jesus in his mission from the Father to transform the world with God’s love.

Mercy has been central to Pope Francis’ message. Mercy is the central virtue of the Christian life. Pope Francis hasn’t changed any doctrine, but he has refocused us. He takes his spirit from Jesus himself. He urges us to be grateful for God’s loving mercy for each of us. He invites us to be renewed through a personal relationship with a loving God. And, like Jesus, he calls us to be as loving and forgiving of others as God is with us.

Pope Francis has called us all to open the doors and to go out to those farthest away, on the margins of our society, and to bring our love, our joy and our solidarity. He has said, several times, “Oh, how I long for a poor Church, a Church of the poor.”

On this Easter Sunday, those of us who are Christians celebrate the great gift we have been given: faith in eternal life, won for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. As much as we so naturally desire to share this “Good News” with others – a mission given to us by the Risen Lord – we must make sure that we share our faith through our actions, even more than through our words. If we look and act joyfully, we will witness our faith. If we live our lives with merciful and self-sacrificing love for others, we will open the doors to more hearts.

Pope Francis calls all people to dialogue. In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis writes (No. 182), “We must never for¬get that we are pilgrims journeying alongside one another. This means that we must have sincere trust in our fellow pilgrims, putting aside all suspicion or mistrust, and turn our gaze to what we are all seeking: the radiant peace of God’s face.” He continued in No. 246, “How many important things unite us! If we really believe in the abundantly free working of the Holy Spirit, we can learn so much from one another! It is not just about being better informed about others, but rather about reaping what the Spirit has sown in them, which is also meant to be a gift for us.”

If we all give ourselves to committed dialogue with our fellow believers in God and fellow citizens of this planet, with respect and affection, we will discover a common belief in the sacred dignity of every human life. Dialogue will be a path to a common mission of compassion and care for those most in need in our world. Dialogue can unite us to turning the tide of indifference and insensitivity to the suffering of others.

Dialogue can lead us to work together to reform unjust social structures. Ultimately, we must be in continuous dialogue with our culture.

With mercy and a genuine respect for different approaches and values, we must represent the values of faith and solidarity for those on the margins of society.

Easter Sunday is a wonderful day to be renewed in hope for new life, together.