Why mercy is such a powerful motivating factor for evangelization
Apr 26, 2019
The readings for Holy Mass on Divine Mercy Sunday give us a pretty clear cause and effect, though because of the way the readings are arranged we heard about the effect first, then the cause.
The effect to which I’m referring is the sublime beauty of the early Church’s life, as depicted in the Acts of the Apostles. We hear about the great growth and spiritual power of the early Church, and we read elsewhere in Acts that the first Christians were devoted to the truth — the teaching of the apostles — to their community life, to the “breaking of bread,” which is a kind of New Testament code-word for the Eucharist, and to their prayers.
These early disciples lived in awe of God and of the power of God exercised by the apostles. They were so devoted that they even sold everything they owned in order to share together completely in the new life they had discovered in the risen Jesus. And this life was so attractive, we read, that “every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.”
We have a tendency to think that somehow things must have been very different in biblical times, so that all of this seemed a lot more normal than it seems to us today. We easily come to think that we probably would have done the same as the first disciples under the same circumstances as they faced. Perhaps so.
But perhaps only some things were different at that time, and the core was really exactly the same. After all, if we turn to today’s Gospel and think about what caused the early Church to live in this way, perhaps we will find that the same power, the same cause, is at work today.
That cause is the mercy of God. On Easter night, Jesus appeared to His disciples in the upper room, which they had kept locked because of their fear.
Even Jesus’ appearing to His disciples is an act of mercy. After their abandonment of Him on the night of His arrest and trial, these men weren’t in the running for any trophies for championship-level discipleship. But Jesus loved them and had died for them, and after rising knew that He could help them to become faithful.
And so, in His mercy Jesus visited them. He immediately gave them the gift of His peace — another gift of mercy, showed them His wounds, to help them believe, and breathed on them the Gift of the Holy Spirit, the greatest Gift He could give them. And with the Spirit came the power to share God’s mercy with others, particularly in the sacrament of penance, or reconciliation.
Among a number of key moments — especially the Last Supper, Calvary, and Pentecost — Easter is a kind of supernova of grace, and in these saving events we see Jesus laying the groundwork for the whole life of the Church. The disciples would have had no idea what was coming, but Jesus knew, and He gave to the early Church exactly the gifts they would need to flourish and to withstand the challenges He knew they would face.
Every year on this Sunday known as Divine Mercy Sunday, we celebrate these great gifts of God to His Church. And I hope that each of us is moved to profound gratitude for all that God has given us. This is a matter of life and death for us, because without God’s mercy, we’re dead — forever. But with God’s mercy we have the promise to live forever, and to do so in perfect joy and peace.
The message of Easter is that we don’t need to be defined by our sins. Rather, we find the true meaning of our lives in Jesus Christ. Jesus, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, is the answer to which every human life is the question. And what kind of “answer” is Jesus? An answer of love, of love even when we don’t deserve it. And this gift of love brings with it a challenge, to love others even when they don’t deserve it.
When we begin to understand mercy, we will begin to live as the early Church lived, as the Church always lives when she is filled with the Holy Spirit. We will be a people who receive God’s mercy gratefully, and who share that mercy with others.
St. Peter said in Saturday’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” We see Jesus in the Holy Eucharist … we hear His word in Sacred Scripture … but do we find it “impossible” not to speak about the saving mercy we find in Jesus Christ?
I have to admit that sometimes I would find it pretty easy not to speak about Jesus, left to my own devices. Thank God I am not left to my own devices! God does not simply call us to speak about Jesus, but He equips us, especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass, in hearing His word and in both offering and receiving Christ’s Body and Blood.
To speak about Jesus to others means calling them to put their faith in Christ and to turn their lives over to Him. Evangelization means that even as we strive to become holy as Christ is holy, we also call others to do the same. Mercy does not in any way mean we give up on fighting sin. Sin leads to death, and Christ-like holiness brings life, so the only sensible way to understand mercy is to recognize that mercy draws us away from death and closer to Him Who gives us life.
May all Catholics resolve on this Divine Mercy Sunday to do everything we can to speak about the Lord Jesus, to share God’s merciful love with all we meet, and to bring as many people as possible closer to Christ.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.