Bringing the Gospel of Mercy to Every Person

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

Photo Credit: Jaclyn Lippelmann for the Catholic Standard

A dramatic scene often appearing in movies and television dramas is the moment when the guilty person “throws himself on the mercy of the court” and begs forgiveness, pardon, and a lighter sentence from the judge. What heightens the drama is the uncertainty of the response. The judge does not always temper justice with mercy. The court and the law are not always prone to forgiveness.

Perhaps one of the reasons we are easily caught up in this type of story is because each one of us knows that, at different times in our lives, we have failed and done wrong ourselves. Each one of us knows in our own heart that we too have sinned.

Unlike the mitigated, contextualized, and limited mercy of the courtroom-drama judge, however, when we throw ourselves at the feet of God’s mercy, we experience in Christ the unconditional and unlimited depth of God’s forgiveness.

Jesus is the incarnation of mercy. He makes the mercy of God physically and visibly present to us. His outstretched arms on the cross are a powerful, visible, and clear sign of the depth and breadth of God’s mercy. Every time we pass by a crucifix, we are reminded that God’s love is at work in our lives – not as an abstraction, but every bit as real as the presence of the crucifix. What a blessing it is to know that God so loves us that he gave us his only Son so that we might be redeemed from death in sin and have eternal life (John 3:16).

As the “made-for-TV-dramas” vividly portray, something in our human nature cries out for the assurance that our sins are truly forgiven. Saint John Paul II saw a fitting way to assure the world of God’s mercy by declaring that the end of the Octave of Easter would be a celebration of mercy.

The inspiration for this special day comes from the visions that Saint Faustina reported receiving, in which the Lord asked that a feast day be dedicated to Divine Mercy. With the readings of the Second Sunday of Easter focused on the institution of the Sacrament of Penance, Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 at the canonization of this religious sister from Poland declared that henceforth this day would be known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.”

In the Church, the loving mercy of God continues to be visibly present because Jesus takes the gentle forgiveness of an all-powerful God and moves it from the realm of human abstraction to something as real and as concrete as the priest’s hand raised in absolution in sacramental confession.

Sadly, though it is true that the Church is the place to experience the mercy of God, many people do not believe this to be true. For various reasons, some people even experience the Church as a place where God’s mercy is obscured or withheld from them. This kind of experience is one of our greatest obstacles to evangelization.

Pope Francis would like to see that this not happen. His vision for evangelization is that the Church might make clear its mission of being a witness to mercy. Our Holy Father has announced “an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its center the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: ‘Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful’ (cf. Luke 6:36).”

The Holy Year will begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015. It is Pope Francis’ conviction that the whole Church “will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time” (Homily of March 13, 2015).

Please join me today in praying that this Jubilee year will bear much fruit in the Church and will make God’s abundant mercy more visible to all those desiring to “throw themselves at the feet of their merciful Father.”