It is a paradox: we believe our vocation is to become holy, as God is holy; yet we know this is, humanly speaking, beyond us; all fall; therefore, mercy toward sinful humans — including ourselves — is always needed. But what is true mercy?
“It is our very sleepiness to the presence of God that renders us insensitive to evil: we don’t hear God because we don’t want to be disturbed.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, April 20, 2011, General Audience
“The attempts made through the ages to extinguish the light of God, to replace it with the glare of illusion and deceit, have heralded episodes of tragic violence against mankind. This is because the attempt to cancel the name of God from the pages of history results in distortion, in which even the most beautiful and noble words lose their true meaning.”
—Pope Benedict XVI, Vatican City, December 14, 2012
“Catholics who have matured to this point have always been forced into a ghetto — often enough by their fellow Catholics… This is not directly a matter of their own choosing. Like most men, they would like to have some effective say in the running of their world. Their exclusion results from their choice to stay close to the Lord. Those who are less mature, like the earlier Jews, think that compromise is possible — and often it is, if one considers the matter abstractly and without realizing the intrinsic corruption of all men by sin. Hence, those less mature do not understand the somewhat distant and reserved coolness or even hostility of someone more mature towards the objects of their enthusiasms. They consider ‘getting ahead’ a benefit not only to themselves but to the Church, and are puzzled by those who do not. They fail to see that the world lets them get ahead — unless the Lord Himself intervenes — only insofar as they serve the world’s cause, first unconsciously, then with increasing awareness. But those of that maturity with which we are here concerned know clearly enough that ‘friendship with the world is enmity with God’ (James 4:4) and leads ultimately to betrayal or apostasy.”
—The late Father Paul M. Quay, S.J. (1924-1994), in his book The Mystery Hidden for Ages in God (published in 1995), the result of 30 years of meditation upon how the individual Christian goes through “biblical stages” of gradual transformation into the likeness of Christ
On some matters, compromise is not possible, though we might wish it were so. “Friendship with the world is enmity with God.” This is the central issue now being wrestled with at the Synod of Bishops in Rome. The gravest danger facing us is the acceptance of a false notion of mercy which would lead us into “friendship with the world” but “enmity with God.”
As I write this on October 12, the Synod on the Family is entering its second week amid charges of “manipulation” and great confusion about the Synod’s true purpose and goal. Many “theories” are being bandied about. In Rome and on the internet, observers and participants are speaking of “conspiracies” to influence the Synod. Francis himself, in remarks to the Synod on October 6, urged the Synod Fathers not to give in to this kind of thinking. Still, conservative Catholics, from Poland to the United States, are writing that “homosexual lobbies” are seeking a certain approval of homosexual activity at the Synod (an approval, these people are warning, which would lead directly to a schism in the Church — something, by the way, much-desired by the enemies of the Church). At the opposite extreme, some suggest Francis is simply being shrewd. How? Well, Francis has repeatedly and publicly defended traditional marriage. He has said children have the human right “to grow up in a family with a father and mother capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.” Therefore, some say, Francis is actually allowing this present confusion to see exactly “who stands where.” After the Synod, in this version, he will take unexpectedly decisive measures.
Today, the Italian journalist Sandro Magister published the text of an October 5 letter to Pope Francis. Magister says the letter was signed by 13 cardinals attending the Synod to bring to the Pope’s attention their serious “concerns” over the procedures of the Synod, in their judgment “designed to facilitate predetermined results on important disputed questions.” Like so much else concerning this Synod, within hours of the letter’s publication, questions arose. The 13 alleged signers were: Carlo Caffarra, archbishop of Bologna, Italy, theologian, formerly the first President of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family; Thomas Collins, archbishop of Toronto, Canada; Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, United States; Willem Eijk, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland; Peter Erdö, archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary, president of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe and Relator General of the Synod; Gerhard Müller, former bishop of Regensburg, Germany, since 2012 Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Wilfrid Fox Napier, archbishop of Durban, South Africa, President Delegate of the Synod; George Pell, archbishop emeritus of Sydney, Australia, since 2014 Prefect in the Vatican of the Secretariat for the Economy; Mauro Piacenza, Genoa, Italy, former Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, since 2013 Penitentiary Major; Robert Sarah, former archbishop of Conakry, Guinea, since 2014 Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; Angelo Scola, archbishop of Milan, Italy; Jorge Urosa Savino, archbishop of Caracas, Venezuela; and André Vingt-Trois, archbishop of Paris, France. The concerns of such men about “maneuvers” to unduly influence the Synod in a “progressive” direction would naturally be of great interest to the Pope and the whole Church. But this morning, four of the 13 — Scola, Piacenza, Vingt-Trois and Erdö — said they had not signed this letter. So the “Letter of the 13 Cardinals” has become the “Letter of the 9 Cardinals,” and a Synod that is confusing in many ways — for example, we do not know yet whether there will be a Final Relation voted on, or not — has become even more confusing. We will simply have to wait and see.
Clearly we live in a changing, “globalizing” society where a relativistic metaphysical attack on traditional Christian anthropology (the belief that human beings have a transcendant dimension and dignity, and that their moral lives ought to be “conformed” as much as possible to the life of Christ, Son of God) is also undermining the traditional Christian, and human, understanding of marriage. In this world, we must offer a heroic, and persuasive, metaphysical defense of the Church’s faith: that marriage is a lifetime covenant directed toward new life, a covenant made between one man and one woman who, though weak and struggling, can make and carry out such a covenant.
This is more than a religious belief. The family is an essential bulwark of human freedom. The attack on the family is also an attack on this freedom. Therefore, any conclusion of the Synod which would call into question this traditional understanding would not be true mercy. Though “the world” may ask the Church to embrace a type of “mercy” that would accept sinful behavior even if it harms souls — especially the souls of children, who have a right to a father and a mother — the Church must never choose such a false mercy which would bring “friendship with the world” but “enmity with God.” Christians have a very simple but awful choice: either to remain faithful to the Savior and pay the price, or remain Christians in name only and be rewarded by the same world that crucified their Master.