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.