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By Peter Novecosky, OSB
Abbot Peter NovokoskyPope wants culture of mercy

Pope John Paul II named the Sunday after Easter Sunday of the Divine Mercy. The pope had a great devotion to St. Faustina Kowalska who reported she had visions from Jesus and conversed with him. Jesus said to Sister Faustina one day: “Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy.” Pope John Paul II canonized her on April 30, 2000.

Pope Francis has picked up the theme of mercy and made it the foundation of his ministry as pope. Repeatedly he brings up the theme of God’s mercy in asking church ministers to reach out to people on the peripheries of society and embrace them with God’s love.

While many of the pope’s admonitions have been addressed to pastors in the church, it is worthwhile to note that he recently broadened his outreach to church academics. The university’s theology students, the pope said, should not be trained as “museum theologians who accumulate data and information about revelation without really knowing what to do with it,” nor should they be cold observers of human and church history.

He outlined his dream in a letter to Cardinal Mario Poli of Buenos Aires, his successor in Argentina, who is grand chancellor of the Catholic University of Argentina. The university’s theology school is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

It is worth quoting the pope’s letter, with its rich imagery and stunning Gospel mandate:

“Teaching and studying theology means living on a frontier, one in which the Gospel meets the needs of the people which should be proclaimed in an understandable and meaningful way. We must guard against a theology that is exhausted in academic dispute or watching humanity from a glass castle. You learn to live: theology and holiness are inseparable.

“The theology that developed is therefore rooted and based on Revelation, on tradition, but also accompanies the cultural and social processes, in particular the difficult transitions. . . .  

“Do not settle for a theology desktop. Your place for reflection are the boundaries. And do not fall into the temptation to paint, to perfume, to adjust them a bit and tame them. Even good theologians, as good shepherds, smell of the people and of the road and, with their reflection, pour oil and wine on the wounds of men.  

“Theology is an expression of a church which is a ‘field hospital,’ which lives its mission of salvation and healing in the world. Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude but it is the very substance of the Gospel of Jesus. I encourage you to study how the various disciplines — the dogmatic, morality, spirituality, law and so on — may reflect the centrality of mercy.

“Without mercy our theology, our right, our pastoral care runs the risk of collapsing into bureaucratic pettiness or ideology, which of itself wants to tame the mystery. Understanding theology is to understand God, who is Love. . . .”

All sciences, but especially the science of theology, touch on the mystery of God and creation. Humans are not in control. We are but seekers and learners who should be invited to stand in awe. Great intellects, as well as humble peasants, are able to enter into, experience and live the marvellous grandeur of our world.