I recently blogged here about a new CTS booklet titled Mercy Works: Practical Love for the 21st Century (UK), written by the widely read American blogger, convert and Catholic apologist, Mark Shea. I have now caught up with him to ask him a bit more about what he wrote and about the Church in general.
First, I want to know which work of mercy does he, personally, find most difficult. Mark admits that “the forgiveness of sins is the hardest for me and, I think, for most people. We tend to want to excuse sins and then, when we really hit the moment where a sin cannot be excused, say ‘That’s crossing the line. I can forgive (that is, excuse) a lot – but not “that”’. It’s right here the Gospel challenges us with the radical demand to forgive ‘every’ sin committed against us and reminds us that if we won’t, we can have no hope of forgiveness ourselves.”
What advice would he give to ordinary Catholics as to the best way to try to make a difference during the forthcoming Year of Mercy? Mark suggests that we “pick the work of mercy you find most doable and try your hand at it. When you have practised it for a month, try the next doable one, and so on”.
I mention to him that I note his dedication in his booklet to Pope Francis, whom he describes as “a model and gift of mercy to the world”. I point out that many Catholics deplore the Pope’s “style” as well as his emphasis on mercy. In what way is he inspired by the Holy Father? Mark is forthright here: “It’s what he does as much as what he says. He walks the walk and it is obviously now native to him. He was genuinely ‘happier’ serving lunch to the homeless than having lunch with Congress. Who cannot love that?”
Following on from my last question, I ask Mark’s advice on how to deal with all the negative commentary made by traditional-leaning Catholics in the blogosphere about Pope Francis. Again, he gives forthright, sensible advice: “The way you get the Kit-Kat jingle out of your head is not by trying hard not to think of the Kit-Kat jingle, but by thinking of another song. Paul, writing to a Philippian community that was, among other thing, harassed by the griping accusations of the circumcision party (the angry Traddies of his day) spends a little time arguing with their errors, but finally dismisses them from his mind with the counsel: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’”
Turning to the synod on the family in Rome I ask Mark if he is hopeful about the outcome, given the occasionally sensational press coverage the event received. He replies unhesitatingly: “I’m very hopeful for the Church. We are living in a time of challenge and crisis – as has been the case for the Church every single day since the first Pentecost. But we are also living in a time of enormous promise with a ton of resources available to a wider array of Catholics than ever before.”
He adds: “The Church has grown enormously in the past century and will continue to do so. It is still producing saints and it is still teaching the faith and bearing witness under very difficult circumstances. Christ is just as risen today as he ever was. We have so much to be grateful for.”
Referring to a recent article that he wrote for the National Catholic Register in which he listed seven reasons “Why it is great to be a Catholic”, I ask Mark to single out one particular reason. He is unhesitating: “The truth of the risen Christ. If the conquest of death is not a reason to be glad, what is?”
And what advice would he give to other Catholic bloggers? Mark offers sensible and succinct advice. “Speak the truth in love and don’t get distracted by the world.”
Finally, I ask this man of stout convictions and robust hope a more personal question: who is his favourite saint and what is his favourite prayer? He responds with characteristic down-to-earth humour: “Unofficially, GK Chesterton, who is not a saint (yet) but who will be and should be. I can relate to a fat, funny writer. Officially it’s a toss-up between Our Lady and St Francis, so I’ll say both. My favourite prayer remains the Rosary: a slow walk through the mysteries of Christ’s life with his best disciple.”