Monday, September 9, 2013


Pope John Paul II wrote a letter in 1981. It was an official letter to the whole church, and proud Catholic intellectuals would probably refer to it as an encyclical, sigh deeply, and then correct the Latin pronunciation I haven't bothered to learn: Dives in Misericordia.

I kind of write off popes. They're holy, pious, important in the spiritual leadership of the Church, but they don't seem to understand the real world, what we're dealing with down here in the 9 - 5 / 5 - 9 tedium of every day over and over and over.

I think a lot of people feel that way about God. Nice idea, probably necessary in some sense, but not really relevant to me.

Well once again, the English language has failed us.

The same language that failed to give us backpfeifengesicht ("a face badly in need of a fist") and kummerspeck (literally, "emotional bacon"), also translated mercy into some meaningless God-word, best chanted, definitely with head bowed, maybe with eyes closed, pairs well with faith, hope, or love.

There's a man Catholics and Protestants both claim as their own, and truth be told, he probably laughs at us and prays indifferently for everyone. [Saint] Augustine was a late convert, early bishop, born in 354 AD. He broke mercy down for us, and somewhere along the way, we butchered it.

Mercy = Misericordia (Latin) = Miseris Cor Dare = "A heart which gives itself to the miserable"

This is a God I want to know. A God who gives his heart to the miserable.

Pope John Paul II must have known the trenches. Because in his letter, he wrote about mercy as "the greatest attribute of God," not as the ying-yang of justice, or a nice way to balance out the wrath of a God who won't be pleased.

The big takeaway JPII wanted us to know: there is a God who gives his heart to the miserable.

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