HIS NAME IS MERCY
by Fr Ken Barker MGL
(Modotti Press, 2010, 147pp, $22.95. ISBN: 978-1-92142-145-7. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Archbishop Mark Coleridge in his Foreword to Father Ken Barker's new book, His Name is Mercy, makes the telling statement: "We live in an often merciless world. It is a world where the logic of crime and punishment hold sway and where that logic often spawns vengeance." He stressed that while the world lives by the logic of crime and punishment we need as well the logic of sin and forgiveness.
It is a particular indictment on the modern world that in the Gospels the opponents of Jesus cannot forgive him for forgiving. They are locked in a world of crime and punishment. In the Jewish understanding God does not have a name, but demonstrates through action who he is and that is why his name is mercy.
The book itself speaks of the need for mercy, the mercy of God which finds its high point in the mercy that comes from the heart of Jesus.
In one sense all of this would be something of God rather than of us were we not to go on to see that mercy is equally a God-given gift which comes to us and to our life, showing us that forgiveness is an essential part of human truth and growth and an essential component of peace.
Father Ken eloquently provides the teaching on mercy and forgiveness. What I found riveting and interesting were the stories of unimaginable forgiveness, showing that the journey to forgiveness is often difficult and challenging, heartrending, and yet it is the only way to peace.
In a way the teaching is made so much more effective by the examples quoted. I will be a little bit cryptic to make sure that you read the book for yourself: Jesus' call to forgive seventy-seven times; war stories from Belgium and Bosnia Herzegovina; deathbed conversions, conversions of young people; of murderers; of suffering under the Japanese.
Father Ken makes the telling point that forgiveness is not just writing off the reality of the offence. It is an acceptance of that reality and indeed of the offender's responsibility to face justice where applicable.
Father Ken quotes John Paul II in Dives in Misericordia (14): "The generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirement of justice. Properly understood justice constitutes the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness or mercy as its source mean indulgence towards evil, towards scandal, towards injury or insult. In any case reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions for forgiveness."
What we must remember is that forgiveness is a decision to enter into a process, at times a very powerful one, which needs to be worked through and which ultimately brings healing.
Father Ken has focused us on God's limitless mercy and God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering which is our weakness and emptying of self and he wants to make his power known precisely in that emptying of self (John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris, 22).
I commend this book knowing that readers will find a whole new perspective of the Christian approach to suffering, to forgiveness, to new hope and peace. I am deeply grateful to Father Ken and I pray that this book will be as beneficial for others as it has been for me.
This review is adapted from Archbishop Denis Hart's address at the launch of Fr Barker's new book at St Benedict's Church, Burwood, on 15 August. This book and others by Fr Barker are available from Freedom Publishing.