Mercy, Marriage and Dante Alighieri

Earlier this month, on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, Pope Francis issued a special decree announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on December 8. Divine Mercy Sunday – the first Sunday after Easter each year — was instituted in 2000 by St. John Paul II, who expressed his own profound understanding of mercy in the encyclical Dives in Misericordia (“Rich in Mercy”).

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Mercy is also a signature theme of our current Holy Father. Pope Francis’ April 11 document Misericordiae Vultus (roughly “The Face of Mercy”) is a hymn of praise to the beauty and urgency of mercy – “the beating heart of the Gospel” — in the life of Christians.

With our attention and resources as a local Church heavily focused on the World Meeting of Families in September, we might be tempted to overlook Misericordiae Vultus. But that would be a mistake. Pope Francis’ words in his decree are a moving reaffirmation that:

“The Church’s first truth is the love of Christ. The Church makes herself a servant of this love and mediates it to all people: a love that forgives and expresses itself in the gift of oneself. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (12).

Misericordiae Vultus is a treasure to pray over, especially its insights on confessors and confession, and its stress on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as practical obligations of the Christian life. But it also has a unique value for the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) as we ready ourselves for this year’s global event. Mercy is an expression of the greatest Christian virtue: the virtue of charity or unselfish love. And just as the family is every person’s first “school of love,” so it’s also our first school of mercy. No family thrives without a shared spirit of patience, forgiveness, repentance and mercy. We forgive because we love. And because we love, we can rightly hope that we ourselves will be forgiven for our own sins.

It’s no accident then that the theme of this year’s World Meeting of Families is “Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” And it’s also no accident that mercy is a vital theme throughout the excellent WMOF 2015 catechesis, most notably in Chapter 8, “A Home for the Wounded Heart.” As the WMOF catechesis reminds us:

“Many people, especially today, face painful situations resulting from poverty, disability, illness and addictions, unemployment, and the loneliness of advanced age. But divorce and same-sex attraction impact the life of the family in especially intimate ways. Christian families and networks of families should be sources of mercy, safety, friendship and support for those struggling with these issues.”

Mercy is anchored in charity – the virtue of genuine, unselfish love – and charity is always anchored in truth. No real compassion can exist separated from the truth about the meaning and purpose of the human person. Real love is not weak or ambiguous. It does not ignore sin, or diminish it, or call it by another name, or try to redefine sinful actions as good. But love does, to paraphrase St. Paul, speak and live the truth with tenderness. That’s our vocation as individual Christians and as a believing community of God’s people.

Before I close this week, three other good items deserve our attention:

First – and very much related to our preparations for World Meeting of Families — I want to strongly endorse two events scheduled for Tuesday, May 5, and cosponsored by the archdiocesan Office for Life and Family and the Office for the New Evangelization. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. Helena Parish in Blue Bell, a special workshop will be offered on how to build effective parish ministries for married couples. The workshop will feature Julie and Greg Alexander, founders of The Alexander House marriage apostolate, and Dr. Hilary Towers, the distinguished Catholic author and developmental psychologist. Later the same evening, Dr. Towers will offer a free public lecture at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary on “Reviving Marriage: The Commitment Factor.” Both of these events are well worth attending.

Second – and equally valuable as we get ready for World Meeting of Families – I’m glad to welcome and support the CanaVox ministry as it begins its work in the Philadelphia region. While CanaVox fits closely with Catholic principles, it’s deliberately designed to be interfaith and non-denominational to draw as wide an audience as possible. CanaVox was founded by young mothers to help other young mothers, and they describe the effort this way:
“We began in the fall of 2013 as a group of concerned mothers who set out to create a network of citizens around the country who would be excited to host reading groups among their friends on the urgent topic of marriage . . . Our reading group model creates a safe haven of free speech for folks who want to engage in open and frequent conversations with friends on the philosophy, science, and art of marriage. We carefully select the best readings from around the web so as to encourage high-level discussions where participants learn the latest academic research and read inspiring stories about the incredible union of man and woman.”

CanaVox is not alone in its good work; it joins other excellent ministries in serving the integrity of marriage and family across the archdiocese. But for young mothers — and fathers; CanaVox also encourages men’s groups — eager to deepen and strengthen their marriages, CanaVox is a wonderful option to explore.

Third and finally, Rod Dreher is one of the most insightful, compelling Christian authors working today. On April 14, Regan Arts released his latest book, How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem. Eric Metaxas, author of the New York Times bestseller Bonhoeffer describes Dreher’s book as “a brilliant, searingly honest account of one man’s path to real healing, and an invitation to the rest of us to join him.” He’s not wrong. Grappling with depression and multiple personal crises, Dreher began reading Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy – the greatest of all Catholic medieval poems, and one of the greatest works of human literature – and it transformed his life. Read Rod Dreher’s book, and then read Dante. They’re both worth every minute you invest.

— — —

On the NET:

The World Meeting of Families 2015 catechesis can (and should!) be purchased at

Information on the May 5 marriage ministry workshop and the May 5 evening marriage lecture can be found at

Readers can learn more about CanaVox at Persons interested in starting a CanaVox reading group should

Rod Dreher’s book can be found at

Anthony Esolen’s excellent translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy, beginning with Inferno, can be found at

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Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia

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