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Europe - Reflecting on the motto of the General Chapter: an anthopological approach

Towards the General Chapter 2015:
Contributions of  the European Dehonian Theological Commission

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Mercy – an anthropological approach

Fr. Giuseppe Guglielmi, scj

Merciful, in community with the poor - this is the motto of our general chapter. A theme that obviously can be reflected on through different interpretations and perspectives. Anthropologically that might mean reflecting on mercy as forgiveness. An interesting philosopher to follow on this point is Paul Ricoeur. Ricoeur works on two poles: the dialectic between memory and forgetting. And forgiveness is at the core of this dialectic. To avoid being weighed down by the past and thus with a memory of a burdensome past on the one hand, and to avoid the evanescent expectations of the future, we have to stay in the present. Thus, the present becomes a place of openness between the past and the future. In the present, conflicts can be worked through. According to Ricoeur a right memory is achieved through the work of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a kind of oblivion, we may say, an active forgetting. Forgiveness does not work on the criminal or hurting act, nor on the event itself that happened, but on the elaboration of its sense: on the one side, the right sense of forgiveness that seeks to rehabilitate the one who made a mistake, and, on the other side, the donor who forgives. In this sense, Ricoeur shows us a way, a perspective: to work on the sense of forgiveness means to work on the rehabilitation of the one who has done wrong. And in order to work on rehabilitation, we make good use of forgetting. A selective forgetting that erases some memories and a memory that builds on some other aspects. In this way, we can approach the theme of mercy in a philosophical perspective. But what does it say? It says that in our lives, in our communities, too, there are inevitable tensions and conflicts. And these conflicts can be worked through in a way that our historical heritage does not become a burden and weigh on us but that we can take on those forces, those elements which open the way to the future.