Scholar speaks on mercy, mission

Stephen Bevans 1

Welcoming migrants and refugees, showing mercy for victims as well as perpetrators, and caring for the environment are concrete things Catholics can do in this year of mercy, according to Fr Stephen Bevans, SVD, professor emeritus at the Catholic Theological Union
in Chicago. 

Fr Stephen Bevans, SVD

Fr Stephen Bevans, SVD

Fr Bevans spoke at the University of Otago on the topic of Mercy and Mission at the invitation of Dunedin diocese on May 6.

“We are called to work with God, the God of Mercy, to become a people of mercy, to become ourselves a community of missionary mercy-bearing disciples,” he said.

Fr Bevans noted that Pope Francis liked mercy so much that he used the word in Spanish in its verb form, misericoriando or “mercying”.

“I’m not by any means a great biblical scholar, but one of the things I do see is that this idea of mercy in a certain sense trumps everything else in the New Testament,” he said.

“But I also think there is a really close connection between mercy and justice in that, ultimately, an act of mercy is an act of justice. An act of justice is an ultimate act of mercy to make sure that you are not going down the wrong path.”

Fr Bevans said there is a double dynamic in mercy: God is a God of mercy and we, as the
Church, need to be the people of mercy.

Fr Bevans said New Zealand seems to be “fairly hospitable” to refugees. “But we probably can do more,” he said.

In the second case, with victims and perpetrators of crimes, he said “mercy should be tempered by justice”, but more can still be done as well.

“Should we work with trying to develop restorative justice where victim and perpetrator can come together and recognise the evil that has been done and try to make some kind of new relationships? This is something we could do even in the face of perpetrators,” he noted.

As for creation, Fr Bevans said that in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s second encyclical, the Pope spoke of creation as weak and defenceless.

“We have to join Pope Francis in being people of mercy by having mercy on creation as well,” he said.

In the question and answer session, someone asked why Pope Francis’s message seems to be new when mercy has always been at the heart of the Church’s teachings.

“I think, ecclesia semper reformanda est (the Church always needs to be reformed). The Church is always backsliding. And every once in a while, a Francis of Assisi, a Luther, a Pope John XXIII or a Pope Francis comes along and their fresh take on the Gospel helps us see
how far we’ve slipped,” he offered. “And we try to come back. I think that’s part of the Spirit’s work in the Church.”

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