Thursday, April 24, 2014

We Are Made For This

It is "God, who is rich in mercy" whom Jesus Christ has revealed to us as Father: it is His very Son who, in Himself, has manifested Him and made Him known to us. Memorable in this regard is the moment when Philip, one of the twelve Apostles, turned to Christ and said: "Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied"; and Jesus replied: "Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me...? He who has seen me has seen the Father."

These words were spoken during the farewell discourse at the end of the paschal supper, which was followed by the events of those holy days during which confirmation was to be given once and for all of the fact that "God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ."

Following the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and paying close attention to the special needs of our times, I devoted the encyclical Redemptor hominis to the truth about man, a truth that is revealed to us in its fullness and depth in Christ. A no less important need in these critical and difficult times impels me to draw attention once again in Christ to the countenance of the "Father of mercies and God of all comfort."

We read in the Constitution Gaudium et spes: "Christ the new Adam...fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his lofty calling," and does it "in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of his love." The words that I have quoted are clear testimony to the fact that man cannot be manifested in the full dignity of his nature without reference - not only on the level of concepts but also in an integrally existential way - to God. Man and man's lofty calling are revealed in Christ through the revelation of the mystery of the Father and His love.
Pope John Paul II, Dives in Misericordia 1

Reflection – This weekend in Rome is, of course, a very significant event, the dual canonization of Popes John XXIII and Pope John Paul II. I want to spend the next few days going through a little bit of Pope John Paul II’s second encyclical on the mercy of God, since it is also this weekend Mercy Sunday, which he instituted as such in 2000 when he canonized his beloved country-woman St. Faustina Kowalska and so brought the Divine Mercy devotion to the highest level of prominence in the Church.

I have blogged very little of anything from JPII on this blog. His writings are hard to excerpt—they run to the dense side—and I simply have never gone looking for material from him. So, time to make up for that neglect!

This opening of the encyclical, while dense, is fairly clear. His first encyclical looked on Jesus Christ as the revelation of the human person, the deepest reality of what a human being is, man revealed to himself in the revelation of Jesus the redeemer of mankind.

So now we see that Jesus reveals the human person, dignity, mission, precisely because he reveals to us the face of God the Father. There is no humanity, no human dignity, freedom, rationality, love, vocation and mission apart from our existential relationship to God. ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.’ St. Augustine said it all these millennia ago, and it has never been put more concisely and better.

This means we are made for mercy. Mercy is the love of the strong for the weak, the rich for the poor, those who have for those who have not. In human affairs, any one of us may be the strong, the weak, the rich, the poor in any given circumstance—when we look at the traditional list of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy we all find ourselves on both sides of that particular ledger, both needing and called to give merciful love to one another.

But with God, His love is all mercy, always, all the time. He is infinitely strong, infinitely rich, infinitely possessing all that is. We are weak, poor, dependents on his charity. Beggars before the Lord with no claim to his largesse save our wretched condition, but His mercy is gracious upon us, and His help and care are never far from us.

The whole human condition and the meaning of everything in our lives hangs on this apprehension of our poverty met by God’s mercy. And his mercy lifting us up out of poverty, so that we have bounty to give to our brothers and sisters, but always from the treasures he has given us. It is all very much a business of mercy given, mercy received, mercy given in turn.

Everything else there is to say about being human—the moral life, the pursuit of virtue, meritorious acts—and the shadow side of our humanity which is sin and brokenness and the anguish that arises from that, all of it is conditioned by mercy, mercy, and more mercy. All of it is either a fruit of God’s mercy in our lives or is met by the healing power of God’s mercy in our lives. The whole meaning and summation of the human story is bound up in the contemplation of the Divine Mercy, and this is why the devotion has been given to us through the faithful listening heart of a little Polish nun in the 1920s and 30s in Krakow, and the great heart of a Polish man who happened to become pope and made this devotion a feast in the universal Church. So… let’s keep talking about mercy for a few days, OK?

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