Lepold Mandic How to witness the mercy of God by living in a confessional
PRESENTATION OF THE DOCTORAL THEME of Rev. P. Benher Sanjao Patil, OFM Cap
Rome the 16th of April 2018 Pontificia Universitas Antonianum
Mercy is the heart of the Bible.
It is the name and essence of God.
The works of creation and redemption fundamentally manifest and proclaim the greatness of God’s steadfast love and kindness towards the creatures.
Since all human beings whether Christian or otherwise, form a part of this wonderful creation, mercy also becomes the indispensable element of our life.
It is the oxygen of humankind without which it would lose its significance and existence.
Today’s world is facing various kinds of problems and catastrophe: divisions, communal violence, wars, poverty, corruption and injustice.
Since the Church is situated in the world, it is affected, influenced by such dreadful situations.
Besides, on the spiritual or faith level the Church faces internal crisis caused by sin and evil power, which alienate the faithful from God, the source of life, happiness and peace.
Hence, the Church today has the great responsibility to reinstate the importance of healing, forgiving, reconciling and saving mercy of God through its ministers and ministry of confession.
MOTIVATION FOR THE RESEARCH
There are many factors which motivated me to choose this particular theme:
The Concept of Mercy in the Writings and Apostolate of Fr Leopold Mandić – In the Perspective of Church’s Ministry and Mission of Mercy in the World Today.
The first motivating factor is the touching and saintly life and heroic ministry of Fr Leopold Mandić which is less known.
This dissertation is a small attempt to spread his devotion among the Christian faithful and to present him as an example of true Christian and religious life.
Secondly, Fr Leopold’s collection of writings, though small it may be, yet, it is like a rich mine, containing the precious jewels of Christian doctrine and spirituality.
The more we read, reflect and study them; we discover more new and deeper insights especially about God’s marvellous love and mercy.
Therefore, this research is oriented to make known his writings and put before the readers the rich and beautiful biblical, theological and spiritual thoughts on mercy.
Fr Leopold’s total and self-sacrificing dedication to the ministry of confession was yet another most essential element that captivated my attention and gave thrust to work on this particular theme.
He is one among those well-known confessors in the Church who offered everything: his entire life, time, energy, knowledge, capacities, and gifts in the selfless service of the Lord and of the sinful penitents.
Throughout his life he worked as a missionary of mercy.
Hence this dissertation is motivated with the aim of presenting Fr Leopold as a model of a merciful confessor to ministers of the sacrament of confession.
As far as Fr Leopold’s life is concerned, we have sufficient number of literature.
Many writers have authored different biographies and articles that throw light on various dimensions of his Christian, religious and spiritual life.
They articulate clearly his beliefs, focus on his convictions and manifest the virtues he practised throughout his life. The two recurring themes that find place in the writings of Leopoldine authors are:
his spirit of unity between the Catholic and the Orthodox Church and his ministry of confession.
There are some authors who have produced a few significant works that explicitly focus on his life lived entirely in the confessional.
The official biography, Leopold Mandić, Saint of the Reconciliation (1989), written by Pietro Bernardi provides lots of details about his life dedicating a special section to his ministry of confession.
In another biography Cesare Cattarossi lays emphasis on the human dimensions and human values of Fr Leopold as a confessor, whereas Giovanni Lazzara and Fernando da Riese Pio X in their books try to view and interpret the same ministry as the one aimed at the reconciliation and unity of the Oriental Christians with the Church of Rome.
The two books entitled, San Leopoldo Mandić, ministro della misericordia (1983) and Il nome della misericordia: San Leopoldo Mandić e la confessione oggi, directly deal with the theme of mercy.
As far as the research on Fr Leopold’s ministry is concerned, we have unique thesis written by Marek Miszcynski which is entitled, Leopoldo Mandić, Confessore e il concetto di ministro del sacramento della penitenza nel suo tempo. Un indagine sulla base dei suoi scritti e delle testimonianze.
These works, however, don’t treat extensively on the theme of mercy; they deal more with the sacrament of confession and present to the readers an investigation about the different qualities of Fr Leopold as the confessor of Padua.
THE NOVELTY OF THE TOPIC
The actual theme chosen for the doctoral research is new and different in more than one way.
It is new in the sense that for the first time, the theme of mercy according to Leopold is chosen for the doctoral research. Secondly, this research carries out a thorough inquiry of his writings and brings to light the rich and hidden significance of the concept of mercy.
Thirdly, unlike the other books or works on Fr Leopold, this research studies, observes and depicts his ministry or apostolate of confession, chiefly as the ministry and mission of mercy.
RELEVANCE AND PURPOSE OF THE THEME
There are many reasons to justify the importance and the need of the theme.
The world today is dominated by culture of misery: selfishness, greed, arrogance. This has caused havoc in the social, political and religious fields.
It has grown up to such an extent that the things are loved and considered more valuable than the human beings who are used for selfish gains. In order to resolve such horrible situation, only the merciful approach which thinks of well-being of all, seems to be the only fitting remedy and solution.
Therefore, today the world feels an urgent need to promote the culture of loving mercy and compassionate care for all.
Like the world, the Church too recognizes the importance of mercy and feels its great need for its life and apostolate. There is the spiritual crisis in the Christian faithful.
Due to secularization, materialism, excessive importance to scientific and technological progress and even due to lack of finding right answer to sickness, sufferings and other problems of the world, the faithful doubt on the existence of God and are gradually distancing themselves from Him.
Consequently, they find their life disoriented, meaningless and hopeless. In this desperate situations, there is a great need to instil in the faithful the belief in the existence of God, who is slow to anger and rich in mercy (Joel 2,13; Jon 4,2), who alone can fulfil their heart’s desires filling them with complete joy (Jn 15,11) and true peace (Jn 14,27).
The place where one experiences tangibly the tenderness, loving-kindness and merciful touch of God is the sacrament of confession. Therefore, there is urgent need to uphold and reinstate the value and preciousness of this sacrament as fundamentally the sacrament of God’s mercy.
Further, the necessity of this theme lies hidden in the salvific action and words of Jesus who came on earth to do God’s will:
«And this is the will of Him who sent me that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me…» (Jn 6,39).
The increasing sense of loss of sin has blinded the conscience of the faithful, blurred their vision of God and has laid them away from God.
The deceptive power of sin which can cause eternal damnation of souls is unfortunately taken too lightly.
The Christian faithful seem to take for granted the great sacrifice of Jesus and his burning desire to save each and every soul for God. For this reason he established the sacrament of confession as the extraordinary path to healing, liberation and redemption.
Hence, it is the most responsibility of Church’s ministers to create strong awareness in the faithful.
Following the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd, they need to commit themselves whole-heartedly and make every effort to carry out this saving mission which is essentially the ministry and mission of mercy.
There are many faithful who really believe in the merciful and forgiveness of God experienced in the sacrament of confession.
But unfortunately they do not find worthy ministers who make themselves available for confession or who treat them in unexpected manners.
They long to see the confessors who reflect the merciful face of God.
In this background, this theme is essential to the extent that it calls all the confessors to implement in their ministry more human and kind approach as well as try to cultivate compassionate and merciful qualities and attitudes.
This can draw the faithful to Christ and his church, making them to feel embraced, loved, pardoned and liberated by his merciful love.
METHODOLOGY AND THEMATIC DEVELOPMENT OF THE RESEARCH
In this research the subject matter is developed and unfolds in four chapters.
All four chapters have utilised different scientific techniques, methodological principles and critical means in order to bring to light the authentic value and importance of the concept of mercy hidden in the life, writings and even in the ministry of Fr Leopold, the son of Dalmatia.
The first chapter, The Life of Leopold (Bogdan) Mandić: An Experience of Mercy through Misery, is based on the valid historical information, scientific biographies and real testimonies.
It is descriptive in nature and presents a short life sketch of Leopold Mandić. Making use of the narrative language style it describes the life of Leopold as the one filled with the negative experiences of miseries.
It explains that as a boy he encountered the misfortunes of life in forms of poverty and hunger.
He witnessed communal violence leading to hatred, divisions and bloody massacre. As a young seminarian he had to face challenges of physical defects, sicknesses and discouragements.
Later on as a religious friar he suffered humiliation, criticism, misunderstanding together with the pain of grave sickness.
The so called negative experiences became for him a blessing in disguise.
In fact, they became for him means of revelation of God’s goodness and mercy, made visible to him through various persons and events.
Through his caring and loving parents he experienced the tenderness and sweetness of God’s love.
In the disciplined but understanding formators, and later on in his close friends and benefactors, he came to know the generosity and magnanimity of God’s heart.
Apart from this, in his poverty, he recognized the richness of God’s provident care.
In his humiliation and littleness he witnessed the infinite greatness of God and in his sickness and temptations he received immense graces of consolations and comfort.
In short, he experienced abundance of God’s mercy and others’ goodness through the misery.
The second chapter, as the title itself suggests, The Concept of Mercy in the Writings of Leopold Mandić, sincerely attempts to offer a clear definition of mercy.
As It has tried to carefully investigate, correctly analyse and authentically interpret all the available writings: letters, articles, vows, reflections and prayers of the Capuchin writer.
By critically studying, evaluating the writings and interpreting them from theological, biblical and spiritual viewpoint; the research furnishes realistic and acceptable understanding of all that Leopold thought of, meant, reflected and meditated about mercy.
As a matter of fact, Leopold has made use of the term mercy mostly in his letters, in the context of poverty, sickness, misfortunes and spiritual struggles experienced by his penitents.
In these conditions he speaks to them about mercy which is often attributed to and associated with God, Jesus Christ, and sometimes even with the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In this context mercy stands for that noble and highest quality which expresses principally the infinite goodness and overwhelming loving kindness of God.
This concept is significantly expounded further by closely linking it with a symbol of heart.
By profusely utilizing the Latin-Italian expression misericordia, Leopold brings out the true and full meaning of mercy as having a heart, or heart that feels for the misery of others.
In the biblical language to have a heart signifies having bowels of mercy or visceral love. In this sense mercy is defined as deep and intimate sentiments of compassion.
However, the mercy conceived in his writings, is like a rainbow which manifests itself into different expressions like kindness, forgiveness, benevolence, steadfast love, graces and favours.
This chapter uses different expressions such as: farà con lei la sua misericordia, farà nella sua misericordia or avrà misericordia in order to convey God’s merciful intervention.
All these expressions often used with future tense reveal God’s steadfast mercy and love which last from generation to generation. Another significant element about this concept is that, it is always qualified with various adjectives such as: divine, infinite, full, immense so on and so forth.
It illustrates that goodness and loving kindness of the Lord is as boundless as the sea.
His compassionate and merciful love is the greatest and most powerful of all. In fact, His mercy is so vast that it fills and surrounds the whole universe.
The third chapter makes an analytical study of the principal sources of the research and provides detailed explanation about Leopold’s great mission of mercy.
The virtue of mercy was the hallmark of his life and above all of his apostolate too.
The chapter strongly tries to prove a point that he was a true and heroic dispenser and missionary of God’s mercy.
The same mercy and loving kindness which he experienced and which was a focal point of his meditation and which is reflected in his writings, he tried to share and proclaim it through his words, deeds and ministry of confession.
The study shows that Fr Leopold committed himself totally and generously to the ministry of confession till the last moment of his life.
He was fully convinced that God had chosen him for this ministry in order to dispense His infinite love and compassionate mercy which is the source of joy, peace, pardon and salvation to the poor sinner.
He was blessed with different human and divine qualities. He was patient, always available, humble, kind and above all merciful in his manners, attitudes and gestures.
By his compassionate heart, listening ears, affectionate and touching words he wished to be a bridge that unites sinners with God, misery with mercy, the earth with heaven.
This mercy inspired him to be fatherly with some, friendly with others; whereas with the majority of penitents, it illuminated and guided him to relate as prudent judge, caring physician and wise teacher.
The second part of this chapter is dedicated to his works of mercy. As a Capuchin friar he was poor, but had a heart, rich and full of kindness and compassion towards the needy brethren.
His mission of mercy consisted of corporal and spiritual works of mercy towards the sick, the poor, the separated brethren etc. His mission was of small things, of little ways, however, done with the fidelity, perseverance and above all with ardent and passionate love.
As a Christian faithful and as a confessor he was really admirable and heroic minister of God’s mercy,
consoler of the afflicted and the untiring apostle of the unity.
Every doctoral research aims at contributing something new and significant in a particular field of study.
The fourth and final chapter of this dissertation can be considered as a small contribution in the area of Church’s ministry and mission of mercy. Fr Leopold manifested and diffused God’s marvellous mercy in and through his ministry of confession.
This same mercy is conspicuously reflected in the teaching of the Church and the recent papal documents.
Having studied, evaluated and interpreted these documents, taking into consideration the positive and useful contributions of the modern sciences and basing itself on the style,
manners and approaches of Fr Leopold, this chapter proposes Church as the model of mercy through the ministry and ministers of confession today.
The chapter strongly suggests the new way of looking at the sacrament of confession and affirms that it must be perceived above all, as the sacrament of God’s merciful and compassionate love.
It implies that it should be understood more as a place of proclaiming faithful mercy and a school of Christian perfection and evangelization.
Church becomes the instrument of God’s mercy to the extent that its ministers, the confessors, learn to put on the same attitude and sentiments as of Christ, the merciful face of God.
Today the confessors are called to cultivate a close relationship with God of mercy whom they represent as well as true and personal human relationship with the penitents.
These two pillars represent their authentic love of God which must be shared with their neighbours, that is, the penitents.
This two-fold relationship must be coupled with the adaptation of new communication skills and psychological techniques.
LIMITATIONS OF THE THESIS
This research has investigated carefully all the available resources and tried to explain comprehensively as to how he understood mercy, and then, as a minister of confession administered and dispensed it to the faithful.
However, this thesis does not claim to be perfect and exhaustive one. It has its own drawbacks and limitations.
First of all, in order to discover and define the concept of mercy, the study has investigated into everything:
Leopold’s life, writings and apostolate.
By so doing, it has to certain extent tended to enlarge the theme and its significance according to different contexts and situations. Perhaps, it could have been better to restrict itself to one aspect and bring out its rich significance and benefits.
The watchword of this thesis is undoubtedly the mercy.
It occurs almost in every page of this research.
The laborious and worthy attempt has been made to bring out the spiritual, theological and biblical meaning and interpretation of this concept.
It appears that some way this concept seems to be dealt with in exclusive manner and thus failed to strike a balance between the mercy of God and justice of God.
Another limitation in the dissertation can be noticed in the prominent place given to confessor, a minister of God’s mercy. The limitation lies precisely in the way this image is proposed.
The thesis speaks only about the good qualities and positive aspects of the confessors. It hardly speaks about their problems, challenges or negative things they must avoid while administering the sacrament of mercy.