What is topical in the text of this address is the way in which the now Pope Francis presents the Christian conception of morality as a response to the encounter with the person of Jesus. The articulation of the primary proclamation of God's love for us in terms of God's mercy towards us has become an almost every day feature of Pope Francis' teaching. It is now very familiar when, listened to during his first Angelus address, for example, it sounded very unusual. In the text of this address published in Traces we can detect a long history of this theme in Pope Francis' own personal thought, and we can see it as Pope Francis' particular way of experiencing the charism of Communion and Liberation:
Everything in our life, today just as in Jesus’ time, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like all men and yet different. The first ones, John, Andrew, and Simon, felt themselves to be looked at into their very depths, read in their innermost being, and in them sprang forth a surprise, a wonder that instantly made them feel bound to Him, made them feel different.Thus far Fr Luigi Giussani and a classic account of the idea of the encounter with Jesus according to the charism of Communion and Liberation. But then what, with the hindsight of Pope Francis' preaching since being elected Successor of St Peter, we might see as Archbishop Bergoglio's distinctive articulation in terms of mercy (this section of text taken in its fuller form from Traces - my emphasis added):
We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered–forgive me the use of this word–by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.Archbishop Bergoglio then goes on - following the line of thought of Fr Giussani and the classic presentation of Communion and Liberation - to indicate how a moral imperative arises from this encounter:
In front of this merciful embrace .... we feel a real desire to respond, to change, to correspond; a new morality arises. .... Christian morality is not a titanic effort of the will, the effort of someone who decides to be consistent and succeeds, a solitary challenge in the face of the world. No. Christian morality is simply a response. It is the heartfelt response to a surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .....The surprising, unforeseeable, “unjust” mercy .... of one who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me. This is why the Christian conception of morality is a revolution; it is not a never falling down but an always getting up again.
And, again in a manner that is familiar from his preaching as Pope Francis, Cardinal Bergoglio goes on to speak about the Church as the place where Jesus is encountered today:
Jesus is encountered, just as 2,000 years ago, in a human presence, the Church, the company of those whom He assimilates to Himself, His Body, the sign and sacrament of His Presence.
The topicality of Cardinal Bergoglio's words lies in the way in which a Christian conception of morality is consequent upon the encounter with Christ. It allows us another insight into Pope Francis' controversial observation about the teaching with regard to abortion etc coming after the first proclamation of God's mercy, an observation that I have previously understood in the context of an understanding of the different stages in evangelisation archetypally taught in the Decree Ad Gentes and Pope Paul's Evangelii Nuntiandi.