Kasper on the Church: Both agent and object of God's mercy

Cardinal Kasper

What does mercy mean for the life and mission of the Church, asks Cardinal Walter Kasper, whose work on the subject has captured the imagination of Pope Francis. Cardinal Kasper will take part in next month's Synod on the Family.

- America magazine

The precept of mercy applies not only to individual Christians but to the Church as a whole. Many ask: If God is always merciful, why is the Church not the same? Or, why does the Church not seem to be as merciful as God?

The question expresses the uneasiness of many Christians.

They are right: The Church defined itself in the Second Vatican Council as a sacrament—a universal sign and instrument of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ.

If the Church is a sacrament of God’s love in Christ, it is also a sacrament of God’s mercy. Therefore the command for the Church to be merciful is grounded in the identity of the Church as the body of Christ.

The Church is not a kind of social or charitable agency; as the body of Christ, it is the sacrament of the continuing effective presence of Christ in the world. It is the sacrament of mercy as the “total Christ”—that is, Christ in head and members. Thus the Church encounters Christ himself in its own members and in people who are in need of help.

But there is still a second aspect. The Church is not only the agent of God’s mercy; it is also the object of God’s mercy.

As the body of Christ, it is redeemed by Jesus Christ. But the Church encompasses sinners in its bosom and therefore must be purified time and again in order to be able to stand pure and holy (Eph 5:23).

Consequently, the Church must self-critically and repeatedly ask itself whether it actually lives up to what it is and should be. Additionally, just as Jesus Christ did, so too we are supposed to deal with the flaws and failings of the Church, not in a self-righteous but in a merciful way. We must, however, be clear about one thing: a Church without charity and mercy would no longer be the church of Jesus Christ.

The message of mercy, therefore, has far-reaching consequences for the teaching, life and mission of the Church. The worst reproach that can be leveled against the Church—which in fact, often applies to it—is that it does not practice what it proclaims to others.

Indeed, many people experience the Church as rigid and lacking in mercy. This is why Pope John XXIII said, at the opening of the Second Vatican Council, that the Church must, above all, use the medicine of mercy.

Read full article: The Message of Mercy (America)


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