(Father Robert Weaver makes an intriguing analogy here, in the theme of not accepting ‘who we are’ before God, whether that be a different race, or sex, or, we may add, any other essential aspect of ourselves with which we are meant to live, and which will lead to our perfection and holiness. To be who we are meant to be. Of course, there are some things we are meant to change, and much wisdom in discerning the difference). Ed.
More than eight years ago, on December 8th 2015, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that lasted to the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, which fell on November 20th, 2016. And during this Jubilee, Pope Francis held over 30 General Audiences in which he focused on our need to experience God’s mercy and to share His mercy with others.1 In this article, I will elaborate on the General Audience he held on April 13, 2016, which was based on Matthew 9:1-13 and entitled “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:13).
As Pope Francis noted, this passage describes the call of Matthew, a tax collector on behalf of the Roman Empire and thereby considered a disgrace, a sinner by many of his Jewish brothers and sisters.2 There were different reasons why tax collectors were held in such low esteem. For one, the Roman Empire oppressed the Jewish people so those who collected taxes for the Empire would have been deeply resented and since these collectors were Jewish they would have been considered traitors by other Jews. Furthermore, it was well known that tax collectors frequently cheated those they collected from and became a separate and wealthy class unto themselves. Taking these factors into account we can understand why the tax collectors were so despised.3
Nevertheless, Jesus called the tax collector Matthew to follow Him and without hesitation, Matthew accepted. We do not know if this was Matthew’s first meeting with Jesus or not, but he must have believed that following Jesus would bring him much more fulfillment than the empty life of a tax collector. After this, Jesus and His disciples were joined at dinner by many other tax-collectors and sinners so they too might be drawn to the Lord and become one of His disciples.4
The Pharisees were incensed at Jesus for this and they asked Jesus’ disciples “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” To this, Jesus responded, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ ” (Mt 9:11-13).
When Jesus said “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” he was challenging the Pharisees with the words found in the Book of the Prophet Hosea (6:6). Several hundred years before Jesus came to this earth, Hosea addressed the northern kingdom of Israel and stated the people were sick and wounded due to their rejection of God and their evil practice of offering sacrifices to false pagan gods. God had called the people of Israel to be spiritual physicians to other nations but instead they contracted the spiritual illness of idolatry.5
So, by quoting the prophet Hosea, Jesus compared the hypocritical northern kingdom of Israel of the past with the Pharisees who criticized Him. Just as the northern kingdom rejected God by sacrificing to pagan idols, so did the Pharisees reject Jesus, the Son of God, by criticizing His merciful outreach to the tax collectors and other sinners. Through His table fellowship with these social outcasts, Jesus showed that He is the ultimate Physician who extends God’s healing mercy to others, for He is God Himself, true God and true man. 6
To be merciful includes acknowledging a person’s dignity, defined as “the treatment of each person with respect and the recognition of their inherent value and worth.”7 In other words, all persons are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:26) and are infinitely loved by Him. Jesus most certainly recognized the dignity of Matthew when He called him to be an apostle and as Jesus’ followers we must recognize the dignity of others also.
And yet in our fallen nature human beings have time and again failed to recognize the dignity of others. This spiritual and psychological sickness manifests itself in a variety of ways, including racism.
We know, for example, that persons of African descent have been subjected to much racial discrimination around the world – including in the United States and here in Canada. This has caused much harm and for some African-Americans, it resulted in an unfortunate practice to alter one’s appearance in hopes of being accepted by others.
For instance, Malcolm X was an African-American civil rights leader during the 1960s and he describes in his autobiography how as a very young man he underwent a very painful procedure using a corrosive chemical in order to straighten out his naturally curly hair. This resulted in a “conk”, which was a hairstyle adopted by some African-American men from the 1920s to the mid-1960s.8
Recalling when he got a “conk” Malcolm X explains that
“on top of my head was this thick, smooth sheen of shining red hair…as straight as any white man’s… This was my first really big step toward self-degradation: when I endured all of that pain, literally burning my flesh to have it look like a white man’s hair. I had joined that multitude of [black] men and women in America who are brainwashed into believing that…black people are “inferior”—and white people “superior”—that they will even violate and mutilate their God-created bodies to try to look ‘pretty’ by white standards.” 9 We know, of course, that black people, white people, all ethnic groups are equal in their God-given dignity and worth and we are called to recognize this and respect rather than mutilate our God-given bodies.
Another way in which some people do not recognize human worth is through a failure to recognize the inherent dignity and veracity of being born either male or female. Gender theory is a present-day, widespread movement that proposes that being a boy or a girl, or a woman or a man, is not linked to biological sex but something that we can choose for ourselves and that we can change over time, even on multiple occasions.10
In July 2016, during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Pope Francis met with Polish bishops in the Cathedral of Krakow, Poland and said this about gender theory:
“In Europe, America, Latin America, Africa, and in some countries of Asia, there are genuine forms of ideological colonization taking place. And one of these – I will call it clearly by its name – is [the ideology of] “gender”. Today children – children! – are taught in school that everyone can choose his or her sex….These forms of ideological colonization are also supported by influential countries. And this [is] terrible!”11
Unfortunately, in a way not completely unlike the adoption of a “conk” hairstyle previously described, gender theory has resulted in bodily mutilation among some as a means of trying to find self-acceptance and fulfillment. Very recently a woman named Jamie Reed, who worked for years at The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, spoke out about the nearly 1,000 children she saw who received artificial hormones and body-mutilating medical procedures because they falsely believed they were members of the opposite sex.12
As Reed explains, at one time most of the children who visited the clinic were boys who identified as girls. But this changed about eight years ago, when the number of girls who identified as boys increased dramatically. This happened in other countries as well. For instance, in 2018 a great concern emerged in the UK when it was found that the number of girls who no longer identified as girls increased by over 4000% in less than ten years!13
Many of the girls Reed saw at the Transgender Center experienced mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and autism. She states that instead of taking the time to mercifully address these concerns, healthcare professionals would quickly start the girls on a “gender transition” plan which included cross-sex hormones and mutilating procedures, such as breast removal surgeries. Such plans bring with them various health risks such as liver problems, a heightened risk for a stroke, diabetes, blood clots and cancers across the lifespan, sterility, and deep-seated regret. When Jamie began to protest about the health care decisions being made, she was told to “Get on board, or get out.” In time, Jamie got out – she resigned.14, 15
Jamie said she left the clinic because, in her words, “I could no longer participate in what was happening there. By the time I departed, I was certain that the way the American medical system is treating these patients is the opposite of the promise we made to ‘do no harm.’ Instead, we are permanently harming the vulnerable patients in our care.”16
This harming of vulnerable patients, including children, results from denying the inherent value of being born male or female, and is thus unmerciful. We must recognize the dignity of those who identify as transgender, for they are beloved sons and daughters of God, and treat them with respect, not with harmful drugs and mutilative operations that include double mastectomies and hysterectomies on teenage girls and the surgical castration of teenage boys!17
Indeed, we are called to be agents of true mercy towards others, and thus recognize the inherent dignity of all persons, male and female, including the unborn, the elderly, those with disabilities, and those with mental illnesses. This requires that we adhere to reason rather than falsehoods like racism and gender theory and that we constantly seek help and strength from our Divine Physician, the Risen Lord Jesus, and call on Him to bless those in our midst.
Circling back to Pope Francis, let us, therefore, heed his words from his aforementioned General Audience “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”- mercy rooted in God’s truth rather than Satan’s lies, which is actually unmerciful:
“Dear brothers and sisters, all of us are invited to the table of the Lord. Let us make our own this invitation and sit beside the Lord together with his disciples. Let us learn to look with mercy (italics added) and to recognize each of them as fellow guests at the table. We are all disciples who need to experience and live the comforting word of Jesus. We all need to be nourished by the mercy (italics added) of God, for it is from this source that our salvation flows.”18
2 Source: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160413_udienza-generale.html (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
3 Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-tax-collectors.html (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
4 Source: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160413_udienza-generale.html (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
5 Source: Ignatian Catholic Study Bible – New Testament, p. 22.
7 Source: https://www.stjosephskpt.qld.edu.au/About%20Us/Pages/Mercy%20Values.aspx (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
8 Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conk (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
9 Source: https://texasliberal.wordpress.com/2009/10/22/here-is-some-of-what-malcolm-x-wrote-about-making-his-hair-something-other-than-natural/ (Retrieved February 27th, 2023).
10 Source: https://www.heritage.org/gender/commentary/woke-gender (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
11 Source: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2016/july/documents/papa-francesco_20160727_polonia-vescovi.html (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
12 Source: https://www.hli.org/2023/02/transgender-whistleblower/?utm_source=virtuous&utm_medium=email&utm_term=2023+02+20+S&L&utm_content=&utm_campaign=spirit-and-life&utm_source_platform=&utm_creative_format=&utm_marketing_tactic= (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
15 Source: https://acpeds.org/transgender-interventions-harm-children (Retrieved February 28, 2023).
16 Source: https://www.thefp.com/p/i-thought-i-was-saving-trans-kids (Retrieved February 27, 2023).
17 Source: https://acpeds.org/transgender-interventions-harm-children (Retrieved February 28, 2023).
18 Source: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160413_udienza-generale.html (Retrieved February 27, 2023).