The Pope has inspired many to rethink mercy. Where once they might have spoke in terms of sharp denunciations, they now try to show compassion and understanding. However, this behavior often seems limited to people who do wrong they can deal with, but not a wrong which so grossly offends that particular Christian. What I mean by this is each of us seems to have a limit where we think, “There’s no valid reason anybody could reach this position in good faith, so that person must be acting as an enemy to the faith.”
For example, I’m tempted with this way of thinking when I encounter the radical traditionalist. I believe that God’s promises and Church teaching reject the view that a Pope or approved Council can teach error, and the accusations against the Church in the name of “faithfulness” are nothing more than dissent. As a result, I find it more challenging to respond in patience to the Catholic who attacks the Church in the name of being a “faithful Catholic.” But since God does not desire the death of the sinner, but his salvation (Ezekiel 18:23), so I recognize that my own desires that they be punished are not compatible with God’s desires. Such people may face God's judgment if they do not repent, but I am not permitted to write them off.
Others may have different limits. I have seen some deal with patience and compassion when it comes to people who have trouble with or reject Church teaching on sexual morality, but show none to people who have trouble with or reject Church teaching on social justice. I’ve seen others show patience with people who have trouble with social justice, but none with people who have trouble with the teachings of sexual morality. In both cases, people are willing to accuse each other of hypocrisy.
But look at what passes for dialogue: Snowflake. Anti-abortion but not pro-life. Ultramontane. Schismatic. Trumpkin. Hillary Supporter. These are not the words of reaching out with compassion to those in need of salvation. These are words condemning those who go beyond the sins we are willing to tolerate. Our Lord issued stinging rebukes at times. St. Paul strongly rebuked St. Peter. The Pope issues strong critiques at times. But these were done out of love, not hatred. In comparison, for most of us, our “strong critiques” are little more than a verbal raised middle finger directed at our foes.
The temptation is to think of ourselves as emulating the prophets or St. Paul in rebuking the sinner but, if we look deeper into our own hearts, we might find this is a case of being angry at a person who does wrong in an area we are unwilling to forgive. When that happens, perhaps it is time to look at what makes us angry, and whether our offense at sin has reached the level of sinful anger (Ephesians 4:26).
It is true there are obstinate, abusive people. Sometimes we do have to walk away from insulting attacks, block people on social media who only insult, and so on. But remember this. St. Paul did shake out the dust from his garments on some occasions (Acts 18:6), but he also expressed a desire that his people be saved, almost to the point of being cut off himself for them (Romans 9:3). That shows great love for those who have gone wrong. Yet, how many of us feel that way for those who oppose us? How many are all too quick to respond in hostility, giving no witness to the words we profess to believe?
I believe the Holy Father is showing us Our Lord’s way when we have forgotten it. We’ve misapplied the teachings of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI as a laundry list of who we can shun. But Pope Francis reminds us that these teachings on what we must not do shows us who we must reach out to, bringing them back to Our Lord. So long as we have self-imposed limits on where our outreach stops, we’ve failed in our evangelizing.
Obviously, we can’t turn off our animosities like a switch. I suspect many of us got to where we are because of years of conflicts, dealing with abusive attacks against us. But we need to reach out to all with compassion. We can’t respond in kind to those we think deserve it.
So, maybe as a first step, we need to pray for the grace to love those we think are our worst enemies.