By Pamela Fabiano, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Vatican. An article in the series: What Does the Holy Year of Mercy Mean? •
“Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 1)
The Papal Bull on the Proclamation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that has been alive now for several months throughout the world, condenses, summarizes and recapitulates in its beginning words, the mystery of the Christian faith. In Christ, the merciful Father takes on a human face to reveal, in a definite way, his love for us. Humanity is converted – to say it thus – into the preferred obsession of God, who is lost in love for each one of us and sends his son to reveal to us everything about the human being.
The great Biblical phrase, “Man is made in the likeness of God” soon found an echo in the meditations of the first pastors of Christian souls who with coherence and frequently with sacrifices always maintained close contact with the faithful entrusted to them. These first pastors are known as the Fathers of the Church.
We will not go back to the glorious history of the patristic epoch – unfortunately little known by the majority of Christians – that is commonly understood starting from the death of Jesus, going through the apostolic age and until the 7th and 8th centuries where the priests, bishops and authorized pastors, along with its young communities recently founded, transmitted the faith and developed the theology which has come to us through their writings. In the spirit of this short article, there is no room to at least mention the names of these great witnesses to the faith (although it is worthwhile to mention at least a few like Ambrose of Milan, Augustine of Hippo, Origen of Alexandria, Tertullian and, successively until Leo the Great and Isidore of Seville).
This very short meditation on mercy, in fact, hardly intends to direct whoever wants to delve deep into the immense camp of patristic literature, from the theme which interests us – the mercy of the Father incarnate in the Son made man who is the attribute that indicates the intimate essence of God, the Father who loves his children with infinite love.
The simple reading of some patristic texts show us the interest and attention of the Fathers of the Church toward concrete situations experienced by the faithful in their communities. In line with Scripture, they did not choose the way of spirituality, but the closeness and incarnation just as Jesus had done. It is not then a novelty if we say that from their thinking, from their writings, the Social Doctrine of the Church took shape, or, the teachings of the Church on questions of social and economic nature. Against the seductive temptation of spiritualism, the Fathers insisted greatly on deepening the themes they represent in regard to the human being and his social life, justice, charity toward the poor and works in favor of the marginalized. The seven Corporal Works of Mercy, in summary, begin here with a profound love for people and for their lives.
Misericordes sicut Pater “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful.” (Lk. 6:36)
This is the theological foundation on which social Christian life rests according to the Fathers of the Church. The human being, the Christian, can imitate God by what he saw Jesus do and to practice that same divine mercy toward his neighbor. St. John Chrysostom, one of the main Fathers of the Church, and who lived in Constantinople (today Istanbul) in the 4th century wrote: “The most perfect rule of the Christian, the most exact definition, its greatest point is the search for the common good […] Nobody, in fact, can be a better imitator of Christ than when he takes care of his neighbor.”
Since man and woman are images of God, they are the main children (Primus inter pares), among others, worthy of being elevated and loved. From this awareness derives, furthermore, a new social order, a new scale of values that in the thinking of the Fathers unites, undividedly, the human with the Christian.
It is good to recall today that in the 3rd – 4th centuries it was written and discussed, widely, on themes like the common good, social justice, care for creation, defense of the weak and sick, division of goods and many others. It is not about reinventing a new Church (as some wanted) only because we lost the memory of that which we have always been! The giants of the faith take us to the coasts; the Fathers of the Church who show us the way to go that continues to be valid today.
Our Schoenstatt Movement is called, with the entire Church, to “become impregnated with history,” “to have a thinking with social attitude which consists in the consideration of others, in having compassion before the miseries of others in order to give a quick and opportune response, based on love and generosity.” (Fr. Joseph Kentenich)
Perhaps it would be enough to only know our own history and the witnesses of the past who guide us, so that later, we try to live bravely what we were taught.
Original Italian: Translation: Carlos Cantú, Schoenstatt Family Federation, La Feria, TX USA – Edited by: Melissa Peña-Janknegt, Elgin, TX USA