Year of Mercy Makes Sense Only if You Haven’t Lost the Sense of Sin
by DEACON NICK DONNELLY
During his 2013 interview returning home from World Youth Day Rio — hijacked by the famously taken-out-of-context “Who am I to judge?” remark — Pope Francis made an observation overlooked by the media. The Holy Father mentioned the importance of a “theology of sin” to understanding the truth about God’s mercy.
His recently published book-length interview with journalist Andrea Tornielli, The Name of God Is Mercy, gives insight into Pope Francis’ theology of sin — which provides us, in turn, with an invaluable resource to help us observe this special Jubilee of Divine Mercy.
Pope Francis highlights the difficulty facing pastors and people when discussing the reality of sin and God’s merciful offer of forgiveness. In particular, he talks about two types of people — those who’ve lost the sense of sin and those who’ve lost a sense of God’s mercy. Both attitudes are harmful because they stop us from encountering the healing grace of God’s merciful forgiveness.
Early in his interview with Tornielli, Pope Francis refers to a fundamental problem that has been identified and considered by many popes since Venerable Pope Pius XII — the crisis of the loss of a sense of sin. Pope Francis says: “Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin.”
Pope Francis also shares Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI’s concern about the influence of relativism on our sense of sin: “Relativism wounds people too: All things seem equal; all things appear the same.” In a homily, Pope Francis has said the devil seeks to deaden our consciences so we can’t tell right from wrong, which is the hallmark of relativism:
“The man ends up destroyed by the well-mannered method the devil uses, by the way the devil convinces him to do things, with relativism: ‘But it is not ... but it is not much ... no; relax; be calm.’”
Furthermore, Pope Francis — again, like his immediate predecessors — warns about the disastrous influence of this loss of the sense of sin in the Church. He distinguishes between sinners, who retain a deep sense of sin, and the corrupt, who have lost their sense of sin.
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