Father Spadaro discusses mercy & politics

Jesuit priest and commentator, Father Antonio Spadaro, S.J., spoke for the 13th annual Terrence R. Keeley Vatican Lecture, held in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. Fr. Spadaro gave a lecture entitled, “The Geopolitics of Mercy,” in which he shared his thoughts in seven phases on geopolitics and diplomacy from his experience working alongside Pope Francis.

Father Bill Lies, C.S.C., introduced the speaker and joked that Fr. Spadaro was “quite ecumenical” after having visited the Jesuit-run Boston College and Georgetown just the week before. Fr. Lies described him as “a frequent speaker and astute commentator.” Since 2011, Fr. Spadaro has been editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, a Jesuit-run Vatican magazine founded in 1850; he is also a Consultor for the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Fr. Lies quoted the first line of Gaudium et Spes, the pastoral constitution of the Church in the Modern World: “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” He stated that this sentiment is alive in Fr. Spadaro, who seeks to share with the men of this age the joy and mercy of the Risen Lord.

It was working with the pontiff that brought Fr. Spadaro into politics. He said, “until some years ago, I wasn’t interested in politics or geopolitics, but being with the Pope I realized he is a man who is changing the world, and … that converted me to politics and geopolitics.” Fr. Spadaro then explained where he got his idea for “The Diplomacy of Mercy.” He stated that the Pope mentioned mercy eight times in January of 2016, namely in his message for the 50th World Communications day.

Afterward, Fr. Spadaro raised the question: How can one affirm mercy as a political value? He then explained the theological basis for mercy viewed in such a way. For Pope Francis mercy is not an abstract concept, but rather, “it is the action of God in the world.” The imagery of the Church being a field hospital also derives from the current pontiff, mentioned for the first time when Fr. Spadaro interviewed him in 2013. “The Church is in the middle of a field,” Fr. Spadaro declared, “it is not meant to be on a mountain, hidden away from the world … The Church is more a torch than a lighthouse … If you want to find God, you have to be in the world”.

Continuing this motif of mercy in the current papacy, Fr. Spadaro cited Pope Francis’ 2016 homily delivered on the Solemnity of Mary as evidence that “mercy extends over time” for the pontiff. In this homily, Pope Francis recalls that Jesus was born when the fullness of time had come. “So the fullness of time is not the best of times … not in political terms,” Fr. Spadaro asserted, “To define the fullness of time do not look at geopolitical spheres.” Further, he attests, “A river of mercy is sweeping across the world; we can recognize it by turning on the TV. The ocean of mercy draws out the river of misery. God’s merciful presence can change the fullness of time.”

The first phase of Fr. Spadaro’s talk: it is in time that mercy can have a political effect. The Holy Door was opened in Bangui in the Central African Republic, in the midst of Muslims and Christians killing one another. Never, Fr. Spadaro emphasized, consider anyone as definitely lost between nations and states; there is always a way for mercy.

The second phase: there is an incomplete and open diplomacy. Pope Francis likes Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground,” where the notion of 2 + 2= 5 is mentioned. Following this line of thought, Fr. Spadaro tweeted on January 5, “Theology is not #Mathematics. 2+2 in #Theology can make 5. Because it has to do with #God and real #life of #people…” Defending this attitude, he went on to quote Pope Benedict XVI, “God is not just mathematical reason, but his own: LOVE”, and Pope Francis, “God is greater than our human calculation”. Fr. Spadaro affirmed: “Theological pastoral logic and geopolitical mercy do not fit math. We are not numbers, we are people. Open thought is a flexible thought”.

“The Pope’s position does not consist in who is right or wrong,” continued Fr. Spadaro, in reference to his July critique, Evangelical Fundamentalism and Catholic Integralism: A Surprising Ecumenism. There is “… no need to take sides for moral reasons.” For Fr. Spadaro, the axis between good and evil just unnecessarily creates an other, contrary to the culture of encounter; according to him, “We must create encounter— that all sides think together— this is the point”.

The third phase: a geopolitics that dissolves fundamentalism. The papal confidant claimed, “The true God.. already has supreme power but renounces it for our good.” Still covering geopolitics, the fourth phase was “a geopolitics that does seek Catholics as a guarantor of mercy”. Catholics are not guarantors of power; they are called to integrate the peace of God and wash the feet of others.

Fr. Spadaro then touched upon diplomacy, particularly that of the Pope, in his last three phases. The current pontiff, in his travels across Europe, has traveled from the center to the peripheries, in the same way blood and water flowed from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who poured out his love for us. The Pope’s diplomacy is one of solidarity, touching open wounds to deliver healing and hope.

Pope Francis is a pope who takes risks. In Francis’ four talks to the Diplomatic Corps, these eight words are mentioned with the most frequency: peace, community, migrants, dialogue, culture, development, dignity, and east.

“These are seven phases of today’s hope… These are seven ways that refuse to let conflict have the last word,” Fr. Spadaro concluded, “They let God in his healing and hope come alongside our hurting world”.

Bea Cuasay is a freshman Philosophy and Theology double major minoring in Music. The Angelic Doctor is her favorite producer of fire eucharistic hymns. If you would like to talk Thomism, you can contact her at bcuasay01@saintmarys.edu.