The Divine Mercy — So What?

So let’s say I want to tell everyone about the wonderful mercy of God. What does it matter if they don’t realize their need for the wonderful mercy of God?

Here’s the weird situation we’re in. For two thousand years Christian preachers had a simple way to evangelize. First they pointed out your sin. Then they told you Jesus would forgive your sin because of the power of his death and resurrection, then they invited you to accept that forgiveness. It was pretty simple, and you only have to read the New Testament to see that this was the form of the apostolic preaching.

But by and by we got embarrassed about preaching about sin so we shut up about that and we just emphasized how much God loves everybody and forgives everybody and how wonderful the Divine Mercy really is. That all seemed hunk dory in the nineteen sixties when everybody was sort of feeling guilty about feeling guilty and feeling guilty about making other people feel guilty so Christian preachers started to play down the sin thing. People were ‘sick’ not sinful. They were ‘wounded’ and needed healing. They were ‘confused’ and needed guidance’ they were lost and needed to be found. They were OK, they just needed to find out that they were OK.

A few generations went by and people no longer understood what this thing called ‘sin’ was at all. Furthermore we told them that they were wounded and lost and confused and sick, but they told us they didn’t feel wounded or lost or sick or confused so we clearly had the problem they didn’t.

Suddenly they didn’t know that they needed a savior–someone who supernaturally forgave them of their sins because they didn’t know that they were sinners because we didn’t tell them what sin was. So they ended up with miserable, confused, addicted, messed up  pointless lives and if they ever once considered the religious answer all we had to offer them was “spiritual guidance” or some other form of therapy.

See, people are miserable, but they don’t know why. They don’t know why because we haven’t given the message about sin clearly enough. We’ve forgotten that the reason for the ten commandments is not so everyone will keep them, but so that everyone will realize that they haven’t kept them. The high standards of Catholic moral teaching are given as a criteria for diagnosis of the human condition. The preacher who points out sin is not a bad guy–he’s a good guy–like the doctor who gives the bad news that what you thought was heartburn is actually cancer and you need surgery and quick. If he just pats you on the head and smiles and gives you an aspiring he may be a nice guy, but he’s not a good doctor.

This is why I say “The Divine Mercy–so what?” That’s the reaction most moderns would have to the idea of the Divine Mercy…it is a reaction of incomprehension. “What on earth do I need mercy for? I  haven’t done anything wrong!”

Here’s the big question: How do we begin to tell people about sin and the need for the Divine Mercy? As the Pope has pointed out in today’s interview just telling people they are sinners in an arbitrary way doesn’t make sense. They don’t know why what they are doing is wrong. Just saying that it’s wrong because the Bible says so doesn’t work. They don’t believe the Bible. Just saying it’s wrong because I am an authority figure and I say it’s wrong doesn’t work because they do not accept my authority.

The only answer therefore is that they must see lives that are different. Those who are miserable and despairing must see that we are radiant and abundantly happy. Those who are lost in the darkness of their selfishness and sin must see that Christians have hope, have meaning and most of all have love for one another and for them.

The early Christians conquered the Roman Empire because they loved one another and their neighbor and that love directed others to the real source of their love–the love of God, and the Divine Mercy, as Pope John Paul II said, is “Love’s Second Name.” Only when people see the transformative power of the Divine Mercy will they desire that great gift.

 

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Nathan718

    Yes, father, but are we ready to suffer the persecutions of modern day Caesars to show our faith, hope, and love as our early Catholic brothers did?

  • striving for sainthood

    And what if in doing the work of love we are not radiant and abundantly happy? Does that mean we aren’t good examples of Christianity?

    • Amy Giglio

      No, no one can be happy all the time. There is a difference between happiness and the fruit of the Holy Spirit called Joy. Joy is not being happy all the time. It is not a Pollyanna-ish way of seeing the world. It is a result of clinging to the Lord in Faith, Hope in His Divine Providence, and knowledge of the depth of His Love. Happiness is a feeling. Joy is a state of being.

  • Stephen Lowe

    Ah, but ye forget Divine Justice.

  • johnnyc

    And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you (compassion). Go your way, and from now on do not sin again (conversion).”
    Compassion for this life, Conversion for the next.

    Jesus called sin a sin. Out of love

  • Rebecca Duncan

    Fr. Dwight. This is so RIGHT!!!! I was raised completely secular and I was just writing like the exact same thing on your post about Pope Francis’ emphasis of mercy but I erased it because people don’t get it! They think I’m mean if I say it, but it’s just true! I did not believe in sin at all. I laughed if people said Jesus was a savior. Saved me from what? If someone said Jesus would forgive me, forgive me for what? I’m just doing what I do because I was raised that way, this is my psychology, these are my life-experiences that I’m reacting to, I have no responsibility for it. It has taken me YEARS of being Catholic to come to fully understand what Mercy even is and I’m still trying more and more to understand it. I in no way, shape or form became Catholic to get Mercy. I became Catholic to find MEANING!!! I wanted transcendence, beauty, reverence, holiness, truth, but above all meaning. Mercy did not come into it in the least. I never thought I’d see the day where a Catholic would actually get it!

  • newguy40

    I’d really like an answer to this one. I’ve asked and asked and asked but no one can answer.
    So… Fr… the Pagans and Jews in the time of the early Church had some notion, either simple or complex, of God or Gods. They, at least, had a belief in the Divine.
    How do we reach people who have no notion of God and actively reject His existence?Or, worse yet, see no need or relevance for a God even if one should exist.
    Can you pls tell me how to plow that hard rocky ground so the Christ’s seeds are sown fruitfully?

    • newguy40

      No response? Nothing from the Father? Bueller?
      Cue the crickets… *chirp, chirp*

    • Rick Connor

      Forming Intentional Disciples, a book by Sherry Weddel, is a good start. Rodney Stark, a sociologist, discusses extensively how ordinary men and women impressed non-believers. Check out the Rise of Christianity. Both authors remind us it has more to do with how we live our personal, economic, emotional and work lives than how articulately we talk about faith. Live it and people will be curious.

  • mmatthew

    No comment. The Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Rite Catholics say sin is a disease and being a sinner is an illness that needs a cure and healing. As an Evangelical Protestant and also an Episcopalian/Anglican I was taught sin was the breaking of God’s Laws, Commandments, Church teachings. In the Eastern Churches sin is ‘missing the mark’ as a bowman misses the target or as I heard it said, going off course from the direction the compass has set.

  • mike cliffson

    People ARE miserable – and their RAGES and implacability are frightening.

  • wineinthewater

    I actually see a bright spot. I’ve increasingly noticed in music coming out lately an apprehension of sin and brokenness. I think that the younger generation might be starting to see that without the concept of sin, their suffering makes a whole lot less sense.


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