Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Living in the joy of God’s mercy

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday. Contemporary devotion to God’s mercy is often shaped by Christ’s revelations to Sister Faustina Kowalska in the 1930s. The Divine Mercy novena, the Divine Mercy chaplet and the Divine Mercy Prayer at 3 p.m. each day keep many people immersed in the mystery of God’s merciful love.

Pope John Paul II spelled out the doctrinal foundation for devotion to God’s mercy in his second encyclical letter, “Rich in Mercy,” in 1980. Living through the social evils of Nazism and Communism, Pope John Paul II wrestled all his life with the question that troubles so many people: where is a good God in the midst of evil?

The pope often pointed out that contemporary men and women live with both progress in science and technology and also with a sense of powerlessness, a “feeling of being under threat.” The news each day confirms our reasons for fear. Examination of our own lives each night shows the sources of our fears.

In the face of personal fears and social evils, many cry out for justice. When they turn to our system of laws, they find a judicial philosophy at work that almost systematically brackets questions of truth and justice. Reduced to procedural regulations, the system works to destroy human relationships and protects even material things only uncertainly.

Pope John Paul wrote that justice is not enough to conquer evil. The answer lies in a justice that is transformed into mercy. Justice according to God’s measure is mercy, for only mercy has the power to transform social situations and human hearts. It is manifested when it draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in human beings. Mercy is love that is eager to forgive.

Christ bears the marks of his passion on his risen body. Jesus’ suffering for our sins is the clearest manifestation of God’s mercy, of his desire to bring good out of human sinfulness and evils of all sorts. Christ’s redemptive death and saving resurrection are how God is present to evil. Like sin, death also kneels before divine mercy in the promise of the resurrection.

This program of mercy is the program of the church. In sharing Christ’s merciful love with others, we restore people to their proper dignity and establish our own dignity as well. We encounter God’s mercy in the sacraments of the church, especially in the Eucharist and in the sacrament of penance or reconciliation. We meet the risen Christ when we experience his forgiveness and offer this forgiveness to others. When G.K. Chesterton was asked why he became a Catholic, he answered: “So that my sins would be forgiven.”

In this Year of Sunday Mass in the archdiocesan strategic pastoral plan and in the universal church’s call for a new evangelization during a Year of Faith, I’ve heard a number of priests mention that they are hearing confessions more frequently than in the immediate past.

In his first homilies, Pope Francis has talked often about mercy and God’s grace. When he had lunch last Holy Thursday with seven priests from the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis said: “Open the doors of the church, and then the people will come in ... If you keep the light on in the confessional and are available, then you will see what kind of line there is for confession.” This admonition echoes his own pastoral practice in Buenos Aires, where he often heard confessions in parish churches he was visiting.

God opens the door of faith by forgiving our sins. Once we are in the household of the faith, God expects us to forgive the sins of others. The church is a work of mercy, of divine mercy that, even in the midst of evil, brings joy to our lives.