Papa Misericordiae

 

John Allen, a Vatican reporter whom I’ve always found factual and fair-minded, was on the Alitalia flight that carried Pope Francis from Brazil back to Italy one week ago tonight. “As is by now well-known,” Allen writes at the National Catholic Reporter, “we were treated to a pope standing in the press compartment for an hour and 20 minutes, taking questions on every topic under the sun with no filters and no limits, speaking without notes and delivering straight answers.” Whereas seemingly every other reporter fastened on the Pope’s comments on homosexual priests–“Who am I to judge?”–Allen saw Francis’s comments in the wider context of his entire, if still young, papacy.

Below, Allen’s analysis, which will prove of particular interest to the many who (like me) participated last week in Rachel Lu’s conversation, “Pope Francis Temperature Check”:

As I’ve written before, each recent pope has had a catchphrase that represents his core emphasis. For John Paul II, it was “Be not afraid!”, a call to revive the church’s missionary swagger after a period of introspection and self-doubt. For Benedict, it was “reason and faith,” the argument that religion shorn of self-critical reflection becomes extremism while human reason without the orientation of ultimate truths becomes skepticism and nihilism.

For Francis, his signature idea is mercy. Over and over again, he emphasizes God’s endless capacity to forgive, insisting what the world needs to hear from the church above all today is a message of compassion.

Sorting through all the comments Francis made during the on-board news conference, probably the single most revealing came in response to a question about divorced and remarried Catholics. We’ll come to the specifics on that issue another time, but it was the preface to his answer that provides the best window into his pastoral philosophy.

Here’s what he said, word for word, translated from Italian.

4vtpope072713.jpg“Mercy is a larger theme than the question you raise [divorced and remarried Catholics]. I believe this is the time of mercy. This change of epoch, also because of many problems of the church — such as the example of some priests who aren’t good, also the problems of corruption in the church — and also the problem of clericalism, for example, has left many wounds, many wounds. The church is a mother: It must reach out to heal the wounds, yes? With mercy. If the Lord never tires of forgiving, we don’t have any other path than this one: before anything else, curing the wounds, yes? It’s a mother, the church, and it must go down this path of mercy. It must find mercy for everyone, no? I think about how when the Prodigal Son returned home, his father didn’t say: ‘But you, listen, sit down. What did you do with the money?’ No, he held a party. Then, maybe, when the son wanted to talk, he talked. The church must do the same. When there’s someone … but, it’s not enough to wait for them: We must go and seek them. This is mercy. And I believe that is a kairos: This time is a kairos of mercy. John Paul II had this intuition first, when he began with Faustina Kowalska [a nun and mystic who emphasized God’s mercy], the Divine Mercy [John Paul named the second Sunday after Easter “Divine Mercy Sunday”] … he had something, he intuited that it was a necessity of this time.”

Kairos is a deeply evocative Gospel term that means an appointed moment in the plan of God, as in Mark 1:15: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand.” The Greek term for “time” in that passage is kairos. In the Christian imagination, the term kairos conjures up a special moment in history when a particular aspect of God’s plan for salvation is unfolding.

The Church, our merciful mother.

The Pope’s formulation here proves so compelling–so apt, so moving, so right–that it renders divisions between Catholics of the right and left, the trads and the libs, pretty nearly irrelevant, doesn’t it?

There are 31 comments.

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  1. Jan-Michael Rives Inactive
    Peter Robinson

    The Pope’s formulation here proves so compelling–so apt, so moving, so right–that it renders divisions between Catholics of the right and left, the trads and the libs, pretty nearly irrelevant, doesn’t it? · · 5 hours ago

    Almost. But I’m reminded that certain species of mercy ultimately harm those we wish to help. When Francis rails against greedy capitalists, I understand what he (hopefully) means. I get that he is calling on the wealthy to be generous, on the powerful to show grace. But that’s not the message most of his followers are getting. They’re hearing “vote for socialism.”

    • #1
    • August 5, 2013, at 3:06 AM PDT
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  2. PsychLynne Inactive

    I am not Catholic, so I will apologize in advance for any accidental insults to your faith. (I guess I’m asking you to read this with mercy : )

    From my perspective and theology, mercy can’t exist if there is nothing to forgive. So, the acknowledgement of a standard that isn’t being met is a prerequisite for mercy.

    I think our mercy should be so compelling that others are intrigued and woo-ed. However, I think it is our challenge to work to clearly articulate the tension between grace and truth. Clearly humility is a key, and Pope Francis seems to embody that.

    • #2
    • August 5, 2013, at 4:08 AM PDT
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  3. OkieSailor Member

    2Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

    Mercy is offered to me if I am willing to repent (repentance means turning). My sin is forgiven at the moment I repent and seek to turn from my sin. Christ’s payment is available to all who will repent, providing the way to forgivness.

    I don’t think the Pope was excusing any sin but was rather explaining the availability of forgiveness to all who repent. All have sinned, all must be willing to repent.

    • #3
    • August 5, 2013, at 4:39 AM PDT
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  4. katievs Member

    The Pope’s formulation here proves so compelling–so apt, so moving, so right–that it renders divisions between Catholics of the right and left, the trads and the libs, pretty nearly irrelevant, doesn’t it?

    I wouldn’t say irrelevant, no. It does throw more light, though, on why trads are wary of him.

    • #4
    • August 5, 2013, at 5:45 AM PDT
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  5. PsychLynne Inactive

    Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO has a piece that touches on this topic (link below). Her words are much better than mine:

    “Who am I to judge?” he said. And with that question, coming as it did in a discussion of homosexuality, a door opened. Floodgates did, too, as people projected their agendas onto it. But fundamentally, that brilliant line, authentically delivered, hit like the kind of welcome thunderstorm that breaks an unbearable heat wave.

    “Who am I to judge?” is consistent with Church teaching; it reflected Pope Benedict’s posture as well; but oh my goodness was it ever heard this time! It was spoken in an unmistakably loving way that reflects, because it is in prayerful union with, the gratuitous love of God the Father. What the world is so fascinated by in Pope Francis is that combination of love, self-sacrifice, humility, and truth-telling that marks authenticity. His style and temperament only help with the hearing.

    We can’t be surprised when those who don’t believe like us, don’t behave like us. The Pope seems to have hit the sweet spot.

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/355105/sex-plane-kathryn-jean-lopez

    • #5
    • August 5, 2013, at 5:46 AM PDT
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  6. GKC Inactive
    GKC
    Robert Promm: Reding this, I can only think about the expected response to being shown mercy. Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery “Neither do I condemn thee (that’s mercy). Go thy way and sin no more. (that’s the expected response of one who is shown mercy).” John 8:11

    Folks seem happy to dole out mercy without expecting repentance. That does not follow Christ’s pattern. · 7 hours ago

    Edited 7 hours ago

    I was thinking the exact same thing. Go and sin no more. But that said, I agree that Francis is opening doors with his frank, no holds barred approach, and it is similar to JPII in that regard. The problem is the secular press and what it chooses to emphasize, and its inability to report accurately on things theological.

    I heard a later interview with John Allen on EWTN where he remarked that a Brazilian reporter was asking about some hot button topic and framed it with, “What do YOU believe?” Francis, dumbfounded, stated “I believe what the church teaches,” as if you could separate the two. Typical. Don’t recall that being reported. His orthodoxy is pretty clear.

    • #6
    • August 5, 2013, at 5:53 AM PDT
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  7. Scott Wilmot Member

    The mercy of God is amazing but it is given in response to repentance, as the third sentence of Mark 1:15 alludes: Repent and believe in the gospel. The picture of Pope Francis in the confessional is beautiful, a great picture of mercy. I hope he emphasizes the need for repentance through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the associated mercy that follows. It would be a true miracle if through the Holy Father’s emphasis on mercy that the lines for confession are longer than the lines for communion. I never like going to confession but I love the feeling I have when I leave the confessional.

    • #7
    • August 5, 2013, at 6:17 AM PDT
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  8. Pencilvania Inactive

    Scott, I agree very much with what you wrote!

    I know the Pope must preach, that is part of his duty – but to the press, whose very grasp of words can lead them to twist those words – I wish he would only say –

    “Watch me. Watch me.” 

    If all the press could report on was pictures of the Pope blessing children, feeding invalids, hugging prisoners, praying with laborers, comforting families, confessing his sins – what ill could they write of that?

    • #8
    • August 5, 2013, at 7:00 AM PDT
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  9. KC Mulville Inactive

    Mercy has two sides, i.e., two perspectives, that we shouldn’t mix. The first Christians, following their Jewish backgrounds, portrayed sin as a debt. From the debtor’s point of view, no matter what the debt-holder does, he still owes the debt. On the other side, whether the debt-holder chooses to demand full repayment is entirely up to him.

    Mercy is in the hands of the debt-holder. The debtor has no right to demand it. And, more importantly, if the debt-holder chooses to release it, the debtor cannot say that he never owed anything. That’s why mercy doesn’t contradict justice; the debtor can’t deny his indebtedness. Whether the debt-holder forces him to repay is another matter.

    On the other side, I disagree with those who say that Christ’s attitude was to demand repentance before he would forgive. If anything, Jesus frequently reminds us that our own debt is enormous, and urges us to remember our own debt while we’re deciding whether to squeeze others to repay theirs.

    When Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” nowhere does it say “after he apologizes to you.”

    • #9
    • August 5, 2013, at 7:07 AM PDT
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  10. katievs Member

    Everyone who interprets the Pope in political terms misinterprets him.

    He is not left or right, though his message (which is Christ’s message) contains challenges for both. It upsets all worldly thinking and complacency, including the residual worldly thinking and complacency of long-time believers.

    • #10
    • August 5, 2013, at 7:28 AM PDT
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  11. Rachel Lu Contributor
    katievs: Everyone who interprets the Pope in political termsmisinterprets him.

    I still think that’s going a bit too far. The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, not Christ Himself. He’s even a head of state! And sometimes popes do get political in pretty obvious ways; they aren’t always ensconced in ethereal spiritual reflections. One of the things you wonder about a new pope is: how political will he be?

    But, that said, I do agree that people are much too quick to interpret the words of a pontiff in terms of their own particular political interests. He’s addressing the whole world, and his interests are rather different from your average head of state’s.

    • #11
    • August 5, 2013, at 8:54 AM PDT
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  12. katievs Member
    Rachel Lu

    But, that said, I do agree that people are much too quick to interpret the words of a pontiff in terms of their own particular political interests. He’s addressing the whole world, and his interests are rather different from your average head of state’s. 

    His role as head of state is as nothing compared with his role as Vicar of Christ.

    He’s not just addressing the whole world, he’s addressing each human heart. And he’s addressing us not as a political figure, but as a religious figure. When he speaks publicly, he’s not representing the interests of Vatican City, he’s representing Christ.

    He’s interested in us not in terms of our potential to benefit the Vatican, but in terms of his potential (that is to say, the potential of the Church) to benefit us.

    Of course that doesn’t mean he’s perfect. No Pope is perfect. No Pope is Jesus.

    But, like Jesus, he directs our attention toward God and His Kingdom, and what we must do to be saved. Like Jesus, he reproaches the powerful of this world, chastens the righteous, and reaches out to the suffering.

    • #12
    • August 5, 2013, at 9:30 AM PDT
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  13. katievs Member

    It’s worth noting that since the loss of the temporal power of the papacy, the Popes have generally been very holy men.

    The loss of the papal states together with the formal definition of papal infallibility (which, as a matter of fact, narrowed it) helped the Church concentrate her energies in her true zone of responsibility and competence.

    So, while I don’t deny that among the Pope’s duties are his duties as Head of State, I say that those duties are so minor in comparison with his prime duties as Pope and Bishop of Rome as to be practically negligible for everyone who doesn’t live in Vatican City.

    • #13
    • August 5, 2013, at 9:36 AM PDT
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  14. smp16 Inactive

    I have a devotion to the Divine Mercy. I think there is a tendency for us to forget mercy and to focus instead on justice. It’s not that God’s justice should be diminished, but we learned through St. Faustina that those who ask for mercy will receive it before justice. I for one have been very happy with Pope Francis’s emphasis on mercy. It is a good reminder to be more merciful in our dealings with others, even just on a daily basis.

    • #14
    • August 5, 2013, at 10:18 AM PDT
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  15. Snirtler Member

    If there’s anything immediately apparent about the world to conservatives who profess some faith, it’s the world’s brokenness. And the Christian answer to that can’t simply be order. It has to be mercy, as Pope Francis tries to show.

    On a different note, John Allen’s analysis of the signature ideas of each of the three Popes calls to mind this interesting comment by 3rd angle on the Pope Francis Temperature Check thread:

    In some respects, JPII took the Church where it should go, Benedict said why the Church should go and Francis is showing how it should go. 

    • #15
    • August 5, 2013, at 10:19 AM PDT
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  16. Rachel Lu Contributor

    Obviously, head of state is not his most important title. I still think it’s kind of funny to say of any head of state (even quite an unusual one), “those who interpret him in political terms misinterpret him.”

    Clearly the spiritual mission is most important, but we’ve also heard some fairly political stuff from recent popes, as for example when they start preaching (near) pacifism or talking in glowing terms about world government. It’s hard to call that “not political”.

    • #16
    • August 5, 2013, at 10:19 AM PDT
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  17. Robert Promm Inactive

    Reading this, I can only think about the expected response to being shown mercy. Jesus said to the woman taken in adultery “Neither do I condemn thee (that’s mercy). Go thy way and sin no more. (that’s the expected response of one who is shown mercy).” John 8:11

    Folks seem happy to dole out mercy without expecting repentance. That does not follow Christ’s pattern.

    • #17
    • August 5, 2013, at 10:37 AM PDT
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  18. Rachel Lu Contributor

    God is infinitely just, and also infinitely merciful, but for us mere men this is hard to understand. For us, a strong emphasis on justice sometimes leads to harshness and a refusal to forgive, but a strong emphasis on mercy sometimes precipitates moral laxity. It’s hard not to worry about this, especially since we’ve had a lot of moral laxity in the Church in the years since Vatican II.

    Still, there is obviously tremendous value in reassuring people that God’s mercy and forgiveness are still available to them. If mercy rather than discipline is to be Pope Francis’ theme, I suppose my hope would be that his pontificate will be happy but relatively short. Not long enough, in other words, to allow things to decay, but more of a refreshing little breather for a weary world. 

    • #18
    • August 5, 2013, at 10:44 AM PDT
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  19. KatRose Inactive

    I am not religious but was raised Catholic. What I love to hear and see about this Pope is the fact that he will hold a no holds barred press conference (no teleprompter!) with the press. He is not hiding behind the Popemobile glass. He hugs the people in the crowd and the pictures I have seen show so much joy, caring, and compassion. Now, I have no idea if his words are in line with Catholic doctrine and, frankly, as an outsider looking in I don’t care. He seems like a man who can heal the church and what I perceive to be its biggest wound…the predatory priests and the church’s seemingly passing the buck. I have always said you can minister to these priests while they are in prison thus showing mercy to their young victims.

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    • August 6, 2013, at 1:25 AM PDT
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  20. Tim Hughes Inactive

    The problem is that lefty “the spirit of Vatican II Catholics” will read Francis as a soul mate. He is not. He was exiled in Argentina by the Liberation Theology leadership of the Jesuit order. He was rescued by John Paul II and appointed a bishop. Francis represents the “new evangelism” which has its foundation expressed by JPII and Benedict XVI. As George Weigel writes in “Evangelical Catholicism” the counter Reformation Church is now passing away for Catholics. Francis is a sign that the “new evangelization” is on top of the agenda. This does not mean in any way that Catholic doctrine will be compromised. If you read carefully Francis’s statements you will understand this.

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    • August 6, 2013, at 4:13 AM PDT
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  21. KC Mulville Inactive
    Tim Hughes: He was exiled in Argentina by the Liberation Theology leadership of the Jesuit order. 

    Well … no.

    francis_w_jesuits.jpgFrancis maintains a strong identity with the Society, and Jesuits everywhere are extremely proud of him. 

    • #21
    • August 6, 2013, at 5:27 AM PDT
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  22. Grendel Member

    Just whom does the Pope think that he as the leader of the Church and Christ’s vicar on Earth is in a position to offer mercy?

    • #22
    • August 6, 2013, at 6:38 AM PDT
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  23. Profile Photo Member

    He’s offering the Church’s mercy, not his personal mercy. And who’s Church is it? God’s church guided by the Holy Spirit, in which he is Christ’s Vicar on earth.

    • #23
    • August 6, 2013, at 7:30 AM PDT
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  24. Cornelius Julius Sebastian Inactive

    He gives me fits and I head slap myself about every time he speaks publicly, but he is a pastor par excellence. I love him, he is my Pope. Everything is going to be fine. I lean trad, but trad is not going to return as the predominant form of Catholic liturgical expression any time soon, probably ever. I see it as a “marketplace of rites” to turn an OW Holmes phrase. But in any event, I trust the Holy Spirit knee what He was doing when He guided the conclave to select Bergoglio.

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    • August 6, 2013, at 7:37 AM PDT
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  25. Grendel Member
    3rd angle projection: He’s offering the Church’s mercy, not his personal mercy. And who’s Church is it? God’s church guided by the Holy Spirit, in which he is Christ’s Vicar on earth. · 9 hours ago

    I presume you are answering me, and my question was not Who he is, but to whom he was saying mercy should be offered.

    • #25
    • August 6, 2013, at 10:41 AM PDT
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  26. Profile Photo Member
    Grendel
    3rd angle projection: He’s offering the Church’s mercy, not his personal mercy. And who’s Church is it? God’s church guided by the Holy Spirit, in which he is Christ’s Vicar on earth. · 9 hours ago

    I presume you are answering me, and my question was not Who he is, but to whomhe was saying mercy should be offered. · 33 minutes ago

    Yes, I was answering to you on my iPad. Not the easiest interface with Ricochet.

    Anyway, critical edit. In your original post, there is no “to”, only “Just whom…”:

    Just whom does the Pope think that he as the leader of the Church and Christ’s vicar on Earth is in a position to offer mercy?

    I haven’t read through his remarks but I will take a guess and say those who seek mercy, ask for mercy and need mercy. Which is pretty much everyone.

    • #26
    • August 6, 2013, at 11:25 AM PDT
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  27. Grendel Member
    3rd angle projection
    Grendel
    3rd angle projection: He’s offering the Church’s mercy, not his personal mercy. …

    … my question was not Who he is, but to whom he was saying mercy should be offered. 

    Yes, I was answering to you…

    Anyway, critical edit. In your original post, there is no “to”, only “Just whom…”:

    Just whom does the Pope think that he … is in a position to offer mercy?

    …I will take a guess and say those who seek mercy, ask for mercy and need mercy. 

    Different sentences, different syntax. The first used “whom” as an indirect object.

    My querulousness is caused by the fact that most people don’t want mercy and don’t think they need it. For an extreme example, see Polly Toynbee railing about Aslan forgiving Edward in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion”.

    Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?

    More comment on Toynbee at The Lion, the Bitch, and the Preview.

    • #27
    • August 7, 2013, at 1:20 AM PDT
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  28. Profile Photo Member
    Grendel
    3rd angle projection
    Grendel

    … my question was not Who he is, but to whom he was saying mercy should be offered. 

    Yes, I was answering to you…

    Anyway, critical edit. In your original post, there is no “to”, only “Just whom…”:

    Justwhomdoes the Pope think that he … is in a position to offer mercy?

    …I will take a guess and say those who seek mercy, ask for mercy and need mercy. 

    Different sentences, different syntax. The first used “whom” as an indirect object.

    My querulousness is caused by the fact that most people don’t want mercy and don’t think they need it. For an extreme example, see Polly Toynbee railing about Aslan forgiving Edward inThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion”.

    Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?

    More comment on Toynbee at The Lion, the Bitch, and the Preview. · 36 minutes ago

    Thanks for the English lesson.

    • #28
    • August 7, 2013, at 2:00 AM PDT
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  29. katievs Member
    Rachel Lu: 

    Clearly the spiritual mission is most important, but we’ve also heard some fairly political stuff from recent popes, as for example when they start preaching (near) pacifism or talking in glowing terms about world government. It’s hard to call that “not political”.

    When they speak against war they are speaking not politically, but morally and religiously.

    Can you not see the difference?

    • #29
    • August 7, 2013, at 5:29 AM PDT
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  30. katievs Member
    Grendel

    My querulousness is caused by the fact that most people don’t want mercy and don’t think they need it. For an extreme example, see Polly Toynbee railing about Aslan forgiving Edward inThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe: “Narnia represents everything that is most hateful about religion”.

    Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?

    More comment on Toynbee at The Lion, the Bitch, and the Preview. · 16 hours ago

    I don’t get the querulousness. If it’s true that most people don’t want mercy, should the Pope stop announcing it?

    Further, I would say he’s trying to correct a misapprehension loose in the world, viz. that the Church is about condemnation.

    Even more, I guess he’s chastising the merciless among us.

    • #30
    • August 7, 2013, at 5:34 AM PDT
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