Cuban President Raul Castro smiles as he meets Pope Francis during a private audience at the Vatican May 10. CNS photo/Maria Grazia Picciarella, pool

Beware of cheap grace

  • May 14, 2015

Pope Francis has declared a special jubilee to help the world encounter the awesome, awful and awe-filled mercy of God. The world prefers cheap grace, and thinks it can get it from the Holy Father. The world — represented recently by Raul Castro and Al Gore — will be disappointed.

Less than a month before VE Day, the 70th anniversary of which we celebrated in early May, the Nazis executed Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran pastor and theologian, a luminous witness in the darkness of wartime Germany. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS, knew that the end was nigh, and personally ordered Bonhoeffer’s hanging before the Nazi leaders started killing themselves.

In one of his best known works, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, (it is) baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

Almost 60 years to the day after Bonhoeffer was executed another German pastor preached a homily heard around the world, including these words: “Christ’s mercy is not a grace that comes cheap” — words that might serve as a motto for the Jubilee of Mercy. That second German pastor was Joseph Ratzinger, and he was elected pope within 36 hours of delivering that homily to the cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica. 

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