The age of mercy

"This is the age of mercy," declared Pope Francis at a penance service on March 13, 2015, in which he announced the upcoming Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy. "I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time."

This past weekend we celebrated Divine Mercy Sunday, officially added to the liturgical calendar by Saint Pope John Paul II at the Canonization Mass of St. Faustina Kowalska in 2000. He established the Second Sunday of Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday in order to emphasize the connection between the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the mercy and forgiveness which flows from the Paschal Mystery to His disciples. St. Faustina's revelations on Divine Mercy revealed how much God longs for our trust and how desperately our world needs to receive His mercy, extended to them through us.

Divine mercy has been a consistent theme of the last several papacies. In this way, we have been experiencing an age of mercy. Mercy is not cheap grace, like a free pass to do what we will. Neither does it exclude God's justice or the reality of our sin. Rather, in His mercy, God looks intently at us in our weakness - broken as we are - and loves us despite our sinfulness. Like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, God runs to us as we contritely approach Him, thereby restoring our right relationship with Him and with ourselves.

In the early years of his papacy, Saint Pope John Paul II frequently preached and spoke on the reality of God's mercy. In his Apostolic Letter "Dives in Misercordia," Pope Saint John Paul II said that Christ is the "incarnation of God's mercy": "Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live - an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice and poverty - in contact with the whole historical 'human condition,' which in various ways manifests man's limitation and frailty, both physical and moral. It is precisely the mode and sphere in which love manifests itself that in biblical language is called 'mercy'" (No. 2).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also spoke often about aspects of God's mercy. In an address to the sick in 2006, he offered some thoughts about how to reconcile God's compassion and care with the existence of suffering: "On this occasion we encounter two mysteries: the mystery of human suffering and the mystery of Divine Mercy. At first sight these two mysteries seem to be opposed to one another. But when we study them more deeply in the light of faith, we find that they are placed in reciprocal harmony through the mystery of the Cross of Christ … You who say in silence: 'Jesus, I trust in you' teach us that there is no faith more profound, no hope more alive and no love more ardent than the faith, hope and love of a person who in the midst of suffering places himself securely in God's hands" (Address to the Sick at the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow-Lagiewniki, May 27, 2006).

And today, we hear Pope Francis' resounding message that God is always ready to give us mercy, especially through the Church's sacraments. "God never tires of forgiving us," he said during his first Angelus message. Time after time, he urges us who have received God's mercy to offer it to others. After all, Jesus instructed His disciples, "Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give" (cf. Mt 10:8).

What does a merciful church look like? It is a church that is the "field hospital" which binds up the wounds of those who are hurting. It is a church that first brings someone to an encounter with the Lord Jesus and then invites him to know His joy in and through the teachings of the Church, not in spite of them.

I see a merciful church here in our own diocese. I see our priests faithfully offering the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Penance, to their flocks. I see our parents, catechists and other lay people educating our children in the faith. I witness generosity in tithing, and I see mercy extended to our needy brothers and sisters through our programs and services at Catholic Charities. I see it in the faces of the many women who find healing after abortion through the services offered by Project Rachel. I see it in the faces of sexual abuse victims who find healing and reconciliation through our Victim Assistance outreach. I see it in you, dear brothers and sisters, as you humbly undertake the spiritual and corporal works of mercy throughout each week.

On the heels of Divine Mercy Sunday, let us ask ourselves, "What are the ways by which we will seek God's mercy? Will we bring Jesus to others? Will we live as people who have been redeemed?" My dear brothers and sisters, let us be that incarnation of mercy to all of those who seek it!

Follow Bishop Loverde on Twitter @Bishop_Loverde.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015