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Br. Steve Herro's Blog


Br. Steve HerroBr. Steve Herro, O. Praem., professed solemn vows to the Community of St. Norbert Abbey in 1991. For several years, he headed the justice and peace ministry of St. Norbert Abbey and presently serves as Manager of Mission and Ministry, Catholic Charities USA, Alexandria, VA. His current ministry connects him to national Catholic issues and Church ministers throughout the country.

DISCLAIMER: This blog represents Br. Herro's own opinions and experiences. It does not represent an official position or opinion of neither of the organizations, St. Norbert Abbey nor Catholic Charities USA, nor of any of the organizations' members.

May 1, 2015
Entry #39: "To constantly contemplate the mystery of mercy"

by Br. Steve Herro, O. Praem.

What do the book The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America is Tearing Us Apart (2009), Pope Francis' Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (April 11, 2015), and 2015 Ecumenical Advocacy Days (EAD; "Breaking the Chains: Mass Incarceration & Systems of Exploitation") have in common?

EAD is sponsored by 59 Christian social action groups from every major Christian denomination. Conference of Majors Superiors for Men, an umbrella organization that serves dozens of Catholic male religious orders, including St. Norbert Abbey, is one of the co-sponsors. I should have known that I was going to be in for an interesting ride when one of the attendees stood up during the opening night and said, "We are going to spend the weekend learning about mass incarceration and lobbying Congress, but I see very few victims of mass incarceration here tonight." Would the weekend be yet another union of educated white middle class people?  As Bill Bishop notes in The Big Sort, we do tend to live, study, work, worship, and recreate with people who tend to share our political leanings, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.

As a strong introvert who goes out of his way to avoid crowds and meeting people that he will probably never see again, and who is guided by two of my mom's aphorisms "still water runs deep" and "empty tin cans make the most noise," I can relate to the opening night exclamation and Bishop's premise. Little did I know that I would end up spending a good chunk of the weekend with someone very different than me.

You see, Joel is a returning citizen from roughly 16 years in federal prisons. And he was part of our Wisconsin delegation, so I could not avoid him as we planned our lobby visits and visited Senate and Congressional offices. He has a bigger-than-life personality; at one time, I called him "Hollywood," a nickname he seemed to appreciate. His loud voice also dominated group conversations and his mind seemed to race from topic to topic. "Focus, Joel, focus," I reminded him more than once. And, he was a relative newcomer to Washington and the lobbying process, so he needed a lot of coaching. Indeed, I had my share of departure from my introverted, educated, Catholic, middle class cocoon.

And what does this have to do with Pope Francis' papal bull? "The Pope of Mercy" has struck again. He has stated several times that he does not expect to have a long tenure, so releasing a papal bull on the Jubilee Year of Mercy, to begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015, demonstrates that he is wasting no time in advancing his agenda of mercy. He begins his bull, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth, reaching its culmination in him..." But I am equally moved by his words, "...When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive..." (#3)

As our conference attendees learned about the prospect of eliminating minimum sentencing requirements in federal prisons for non-violent offenders, and met with Senators, Congressmen, and their aids to lobby for the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2015 (S 502, HR 920), the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2015 (S 353, HR 706), and elimination of the 34,000 federal prison bed quota for immigrants, I figured that there would be no better way to legislatively enact the spirit of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. And I was proud to see that our own national Catholic leadership was putting its neck out in support of such legislation ("Catholic leaders express support for smarter sentencing, corrections acts").


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