These days, at the end of every Mass, we pray Pope Francis’ prayer for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. It begins: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father, and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.” And a little later: “You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error.”
I try to go to Mass every day so I hear this prayer quite often. But when we pray this prayer, I feel dismay and disappointment, struck by the hollowness of the words. We may say these things, but this is not the path that we are treading. Soon we will have a president whose campaign was premised on street justice and damn all who stand in his way. A good part of the voting population put him there.
This is not, as you might think, about the coming presidency. For good or ill, that is that, whatever the next six years may bring. Instead, what bothers me at the philosophical level is the whole environment that made this presidency possible and what it bodes for us in the longer future.
Words are becoming increasingly unmoored from reality. Nowadays, we can make them mean practically anything we want them to mean. Everything is subject to the whims of interpretation or reinterpretation. At the end, we are all simply misquoted.
It is from this philosophical underpinning that we can have a congregation that prays of mercy and forgiveness but remains silent and even rejoices over the prospect of extra-judicial killings. After all, it is a simple matter to nudge mercy and forgiveness as service to the poor and the marginalized. Criminals, of course, can be safely excluded.