June 3, 2016


Mercy reveals to us who God is

The Church’s yearlong celebration of God’s love and mercy is an opportunity to discover anew who God is, and what God means to each of us and to our world.

Sometimes people get the impression that God is an angry, judgmental being who likes to punish us for our sins. But this is not the God we Catholics believe in. We believe in the God who revealed himself to the people of Israel and who is made visible to us in Jesus Christ. This God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. God’s patience is infinite. His forgiveness is freely given to all.

This does not mean that God doesn’t care what we do or how we live. How could a loving father be indifferent to his children’s decisions and actions? How could he not care whether we are living well or being truly happy?

No, God cares deeply but does not force us to do anything (no lightning bolts from the sky). We have been given the gift of freedom. We can choose whatever we want and do whatever we like—as long as we are willing to accept the consequences. At the same time, God really does care about our choices, and he invites us to discover his will and freely choose to live in ways that are pleasing to him—because they are good for us.

We believe that there will come a day when we’ll be asked to render an account of all our choices. Unless God is merciful, as we believe he is, that day could go badly for us as individuals and communities. We believe that it’s our obligation to live holy lives—according to God’s plan for each of us—but we pray that we will be forgiven for the many ways that we have failed to live up to God’s expectations as men and women called to make God known to others through what we say and do.

We believe that God is not a fantasy or a stranger or an angry, uncaring life force. God is love. God’s love reaches out to us, cares about us, and rescues us the way a loving father would. God is also our brother, Jesus Christ, who lived as we live and who died to set us free. God is the unseen Holy Spirit who works silently in our lives, and in our world, to make things better and to bring unity, peace and harmony to an angry, divided and unhappy world.

This is the mystery of the Holy Trinity, which we believe even though we don’t fully understand it. We believe that God is a perfect communion of three persons that preserves the individuality of each. God is what each of us, and all of creation, longs for—an experience of perfect unity or connectedness that does not destroy our individual identity or uniqueness. We want to be like God because we were made in his image and likeness. We want knowledge, love and communion. We want joy, the satisfaction of our deepest desires, and we want peace to be the resolution of all conflict and injustice.

We want to be united with God and, until that day comes, we will never be fully satisfied. We too often search for the satisfaction of our desires in places that promise what they can’t deliver. But as St. Augustine said from his own profound experience, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in you, O God.”

We believe in a merciful God, but unless we put God first in our lives, nothing can satisfy us. That’s why so many of us, believers and unbelievers alike, live restless, anxious lives. We are filled with desires that we can’t satisfy. We long for love, success, happiness and peace, but we can’t find them. We will never find what we are looking for as long as something other than God occupies first place in our lives.

The God of mercy comes first. If we truly believe this and try to live it as best we can with the help of God’s grace, it makes a huge difference in our daily lives. Through the mystery of love and mercy incarnate, we discover who God is. Through our participation in God’s great gift of mercy—our forgiveness of ourselves and others—we grow in holiness and in hope.

No real peace, no true justice and no lasting love are possible for us as individuals or as communities until we accept God’s love and mercy and then share it generously with others.

God is not angry or aloof. On the contrary, God is pure love. In this Holy Year of Mercy especially, let’s open our hearts and love God in return.

—Daniel Conway

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