POPE NICHOLAS I required that all churches carry an image of the cockerel (rooster) somewhere on the church walls inside or out. The reason is debated: was he just pressing the authority of St. Peter and the Papacy? I don't know. Maybe he was honest enough to acknowledge that the Church, like Peter, often denies Jesus in practice. I say often because Peter denied knowing Jesus three times in quick succession and the history of the Church is filled with sad, Christ-denying stories.
As we see in this photograph there is a stylized crowing rooster perched on the steeple of the church which was built long after Pope Nicholas. In Europe, Protestant churches often have roosters instead of crosses atop steeples to distinguish them from Catholic Churches. That might seem a little silly. We might better consider humbly how often as Christians we act as if we don't even know Jesus: our arrogance, power abuse, greed, bad alliances, lies, even criminality. Father forgive.
But there is more, because to be real followers of Jesus, we need to learn again what mercy is. Mercy doesn't mean: "I could have you thrown in jail for your crime, but I'll spare you and have mercy." For all the talk about Divine Mercy in the Church today, I wonder if we know that mercy refers to God's kindness. It's kindness that's in short-supply. Often we meet Christians, even those who call themselves pro-life, who are death penalty advocates. That's a problem. Here's a pro-life message from 9th century Nicholas we might grow into:
So also you, having been called by God and illumined by His light, must not be eager to inflict death as before, but rather you should seize every opportunity to summon all to life both of body and soul; and as Christ has brought you to life from the death in which you were imprisoned, so you too must seek to snatch from death not only the innocent but even all the guilty.
Pro-life folks ought to be front-of-the-line advocates for prison reform. The United States comprises 5% of the world's population but 47% of the world's prisoners. Speaking with a man in jail recently he leaned over near my ear across the counter and said softly, "There's nothing happening in here to help people to reform."
The Catholic Church in the United States once created its own massive and effective school system. Maybe we should have our own method and approach to prisoner rehabilitation, born of God's kindness.