Encountering Mercy

March 15, 2016

Rev. Stephen Wilbricht, C.S.C.

In proclaiming a Jubilee Year of Divine Mercy, Pope Francis has called on Catholics not just to know God’s mercy but to also show greater mercy towards others in their own lives. For Religious Studies Professor Stephen Wilbricht, C.S.C., the Pope’s call reflects a humble papacy, one with a renewed focus on mercy and forgiveness at the heart of Church life.

“God’s love entered the world in Jesus to overturn sin and selfishness through the outpouring of mercy. It is time now to return to basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters because mercy reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope,” notes Fr. Wilbricht.

In addition to teaching a course on Sacraments, Justice and the Moral Life, Fr. Wilbricht assists with parish duties at Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon and writes widely on the topic of mercy. In a recent Pastoral Liturgy article, he explores ways in which the Church at parish level can show greater mercy in its own relationship with the faithful.

In citing the example of the sacrament of reconciliation, (confession), Fr. Wilbricht challenges the popular assumption that the rite begins with the words: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been X number of months since my last confession.”

Instead, he explains, it should begin with a “warm” greeting from the priest, followed by the sign of the cross, and a simple invitation asking the penitent to trust in God’s mercy, along the lines of “May God, who has enlightened every heart, help you to know your sins and trust in his mercy.”

“In the sacrament of reconciliation, as priests, we must reach out in celebration to those who seek reconciliation. It should not be a legalistic grilling or a wagging of the finger, but more of a pastoral embrace,” says Fr. Wilbricht, who stresses the communal nature of reconciliation.

“As Christians, we cannot receive the mercy of God unless we recognize, as a whole and as a community, that we are sinners. There is a collective as opposed to a private dimension to the sacrament because reconciliation is a task we must share with others,” he adds.

Across the board, Fr. Wilbricht sees many opportunities for promoting the theme of mercy from a renewed emphasis on corporal works of mercy such as feeding the hungry, satisfying the thirsty and welcoming the stranger to greater understanding of other religions to reviving the practice of pilgrimages.

“At the core of mercy and forgiveness,” Fr. Wilbricht notes, “there rests an opportunity for us to seek right relationships with God, with others and with the created world, relationships that are just and true.”

For more on Fr. Wilbricht’s insight on mercy, consider his short, informative booklet called His Mercy Endures Forever, which reflects on encountering God’s Mercy in the Mass. If you are interested, we have a limited number of copies to share. Email Martin McGovern at mmcgovern@stonehill.edu or call him at 508-565-1070 to request one.