Bishop's Column

A God of Great Expectations, and Great Mercy

"We want," observed Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, "not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence ... whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.’"

Lewis was right. All of us want, on some level, not a father to form us, correct us, and judge us, but a God who will give the appearance of love, or at least benevolence, without requiring very much of us at all. We often want a God who, in Lewis’ words, "said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contented?’"

We do not worship a laizze-faire God. We worship a God of awe-inspiring holiness, and we are called to become like him. Our Lord Jesus Christ makes this clear: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

God’s high standards are actually a part of his love for us-- God wants us to be perfect so that we may share in the inner, and perfect, life of the Holy Trinity. Our Father cares too much to let us languish in comfortable mediocrity-- comfortable, perhaps, but apart from him. That is why he sends the Holy Spirit among us, to bring our humanity out of its broken state and raise it to Christ-like perfection.

The Lord’s expectations are high – and often times, we fall short of them. Thankfully, his patience, kindness, and forgiveness are infinite.

That combination – God’s great expectations, and his great mercy – is what the first Sunday after Easter, Divine Mercy Sunday, is all about.

Divine Mercy Sunday is a recent addition to the Church’s calendar. Blessed John Paul II instituted it in the year 2000, taking inspiration from the visions of the 20th-century Polish nun St. Faustina Kowalska. I stood in St. Peter’s Square when John Paul II called for the feast of Divine Mercy. It was a gift to the Church-- a way to remember the depth of God’s love.

Eastertide has always been a season of mercy, ever since the days that followed Christ’s Resurrection. In this sense, Divine Mercy Sunday is not "new," but a reminder of something the Church has always known: that the risen Lord asks great things of us, even though we are sinners who need his forgiveness.

In the days after the Resurrection, all of Christ’s closest disciples stood in need of mercy. None of them had been "at their best" in the days before his Passion and burial.

In fact, Jesus’ disciples often failed him during that first Holy Week – showing pride, cowardice, and a lack of faith. They squabbled with one another, and often missed the point of his teachings and actions. After his arrest, they scattered and fled. Peter denied him explicitly, but none of the others proved much stronger.

Despite their many failures, however, Jesus’ companions could trust in the divine mercy. They could think back to his parables of grace and forgiveness – especially the story of the prodigal son, whose father welcomed him back with joy even after his grave misdeeds.

In their encounters with the risen Christ, the disciples personally experienced this very same mercy. They learned that their failures had not cost them God’s love. Jesus’ mercy would soon transform these weak and sinful men into holy apostles, evangelists, and martyrs.

These are the ancient, apostolic roots of Divine Mercy Sunday. And our own lives reflect the same pattern: despite our sins and failures, the risen Lord commissions us to live holy lives, and proclaim his Kingdom. Like the disciples after that first Easter, we can repent of our failures and start anew. Our merciful Father will welcome us back, as his own sons and daughters.

St. Faustina Kowalska urged the faithful to go to confession on the first Sunday after Easter, and the Church continues to echo her wise advice. Divine Mercy Sunday is a unique chance for repentance, a time to let the Holy Spirit rid us of everything that impedes his work.

Jesus’ first disciples needed the Father’s forgiveness, and so do we. In his mercy, God brought these flawed men to holiness. He gave them the wisdom, courage, humility, and charity they lacked. They were empowered to be Jesus’ witnesses, telling the world about his Resurrection.

That can happen for us, too. It all begins by acknowledging God’s loving demands, and our own need for mercy.

Bishop Conley

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