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“Not Merely an Era of Change, but A Change of Era”

Sunday, January 31st, 2016

Grace: Week 2

“Not Merely an Era of Change, but A Change of Era”
Sunday, January 31, 2016

These recent words from Pope Francis are still begging humanity to recognize the seismic shift in consciousness that the Gospel is forever trying to bring about. But Pope Francis is also recognizing that the planet is changing at an alarming speed, and the church had best stop fearing change—or we are ill prepared to announce our own message. Grace and mercy are, and always will be, a radical shift from normal consciousness. We truly are entering a change of era. Until recently, Christianity has largely reflected the common consciousness instead of enlightening it. Nowhere is this more evident than in our preference for punishment over mercy.

“Mercy is the Lord’s most powerful message!” Pope Francis proclaimed at the beginning of his pontificate. [1] A few days later, he said, “Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God. . . . We will feel [God’s] wonderful tenderness, we will feel [God’s] embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness, and love.” [2] This is of such crucial importance that Pope Francis has declared this year an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. We will return to this theme throughout the year to make clear how it sets people and culture on an utterly different foundation and in a truly new direction.

I am so very grateful for Pope Francis, who I feel is himself a gift of God’s mercy to the Christian churches and to the world in this time of counting, weighing, and measuring everything for our own small advantage. If we truly understood (“stood under”) God’s mercy, we would see how we’ve gotten everything “upside down and backward,” as Fr. Thomas Keating loves to say. Most of us think and act as if God is a God of retribution and even eternal punishment. But the Bible, Jesus, and the mystics of all the world religions reveal that God is infinite love, which really changes everything. Most religious people have put the cart before the horse by imagining that we can earn God’s love by some kind of moral behavior. Whereas, according to the saints and mystics, God’s love must be experienced first—and then our moral behavior is merely an outflowing from our contact with that infinite source toward all other people and things. Love is the powerful horse; morality is then the beautiful cart that it pulls, not the other way around.

The passion of Pope Francis is to again make merciful love the foundation, the center, and the goal of Christianity. Love is not just the basis on which we build everything, but it’s also the energy with which we proceed, and it’s then the final goal toward which we tend. Love has two lovely daughters, twins called grace and mercy. Like identical twins, they are often indistinguishable: Grace is the inner freedom to be merciful. Mercy is grace in action. And both are the children of love.

To operate inside of this always new and open-ended field, is to live in a truly new era—where evil has no chance to fester, grow, or triumph—because if your only goal is to love, there is no such thing as failure. Really! Even, and most especially, failures are another occasion and opportunity to learn and practice love, even toward yourself. You deserve mercy too.

Gateway to Silence:
Everything is grace.


[1] Pope Francis, Homily, Holy Mass in the Parish of St. Anna in the Vatican, March 17, 2013.

[2] Pope Francis, Homily, Papal Mass for the Possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, April 7, 2013.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Cosmic Christ (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2009; CD, MP3 download); Franciscan Mysticism: I AM That Which I Am Seeking (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2012), disc 4, (CD, MP3 download); and “Francis Factor,” an unpublished talk at Trinity Wall Street, December 6, 2015.


Image Credit: Photograph by BryanHanson, 2015.
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