By J. David and Angela Franks
This column appeared in the April 25, 2014, edition of The Boston Pilot.
The birds they sang at the break of day
“Start again,” I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ah, the wars, they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
bought and sold and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
--Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
When the love of the Father crashes into human agony, into our suffering and sinfulness, it is mercy.
This is Easter. Everything is possible. Your life is hid with Christ, and He has overcome the world. Believe in the Father’s mercy. Believe in the Father’s tenderness. He touches us in Jesus, Who has made all things new. He touches us in Mary, who never abandons her children.
It’s so painful to let Him touch us. The Father’s tenderness is a hard thing for us. Deep down, we don’t think we’re lovable. But hear this: you wouldn’t exist if the Father didn’t love you.
But isn’t the evidence all against us?
Who will bring the charge? “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31)
We bring the charge against each other because we bring it against ourselves. But that must end. If we don’t know the Father loves us, we cannot be merciful to others. This is not to discount our sins, but to recognize that there is only one reason the Word becomes flesh: to forgive us. There’s no trick to that. That’s all the Father wants.
A great celebration is upon us, with the canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII on Divine Mercy Sunday. These will be the great saints of the Second Vatican Council, which John XXIII convoked and which John Paul devoted his entire pontificate to implementing.
John Paul never tired of quoting from the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes), number 22: “Christ the New Adam, in the very revelation of the mystery of the Father and of His love, fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his lofty calling.”
In his encyclical on Divine Mercy Dives in misericordia, John Paul emphasizes the council fathers’ paradoxical formulation: somehow, it is in revealing the Father and His love that Christ reveals the truth about man. But what does the revelation of the Father have to do with the revelation of man?
In the social doctrine of the Church, it is emphasized over and over again that the first principle is the infinite dignity of every single person (created in the image of God, redeemed by Christ, and destined to Trinitarian communion). The Church’s whole mission is to walk the path that is each human’s life, for the Church is the streaming of the life of Jesus, blood and water, into every crevice of human existence: cor ad cor loquitur.
That is, the Church is anthropocentric, centered on man, on each human person. But John Paul says that perhaps the most important teaching of Vatican II is that this anthropocentrism is not be separated from theocentrism, from having everything centered in ho theos, the Father of the Son.
Secular modernism assumes that man and God must compete with each other, that “divinity” robs the vitality of human existence. But in fact, there is no vitality except as a gracious bestowal by the Father. We’ve got it all wrong. We’ve accepted Satan’s slander about the Father: “He’s holding out on you!” But we wouldn’t exist at all but that the Father wants to lavish His entire fullness on us!
Anthropocentrism and theocentrism entail each other. And they do so because of the unfathomable abyss of the Father’s love and mercy: Christ makes known God, the Father, “above all in His relationship of love for man: in His ‘philanthropy.’ It is precisely here that ‘His invisible nature’ becomes in a special way ‘visible,’ incomparably more visible than through all the other ‘things that have been made’: it becomes visible in Christ and through Christ, through His actions and His words, and finally through His death on the cross and His resurrection.”
Jesus is the making visible of the Father’s abyss of love, and that abyss pours out of the pierced Sacred Heart. Into the deep! Are you thirsty? Come and drink, and drink free. The Spirit of the Father and the Son, the Spirit Who is infinite Love: that is the only drink which can slake our thirst for intimacy. And then from our hearts the Spirit will flow on. This is evangelization: mercy flowing into the dark places of the world, a cascade from heaven filling the furrows of our lives, the aching there, making our lives fruitful, making us agents of reconciliation, of joy, of cheer.
In his neediness, man simply is the visible shape of the Father’s mercy. And so we must be merciful.
“Especially through His lifestyle and through His actions, Jesus revealed that love is present in the world in which we live—an effective love, a love that addresses itself to man and embraces everything that makes up his humanity. This love makes itself particularly noticed in contact with suffering, injustice, and poverty—in contact with the whole historical ‘human condition,’ which in various ways manifests man’s limitation and frailty, both physical and moral.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, in a poem entitled “Easter,” expresses the exuberance that should be our Easter lives, an exuberance that will be solidary with the poor precisely by being centered on Christ: “Break the box and shed the nard/Stop not now to count the cost;/Hither bring pearl, opal, sard;/Reck not what the poor have lost;/Upon Christ throw all away:/Know ye, this is Easter Day.”
The economy of salvation is an economy of gratuity, and in tenderness we cannot waste our substance fast enough, prodigally enough, for the Son sent by the Father into the far country, to all the hearts on the periphery.
This is Easter. Time for mercy.