As the Easter Octave comes to a conclusion today, Christian believers are invited to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. While a relatively new liturgical feast, the day is packed with some much-needed wisdom and encouragement.
In our world today, many people have fallen prey to the false belief that our faults define us. This popular but wayward tendency is summarized by the maxim: People are the sum total of their sins.
This rash judgment is fueled by cultural trends that elevate vanity, diminish compassion, and encourage a raw competition among people. Such contests only implode our dignity and cause a disdain toward our neighbor as we fear the disclosure of own faults while publicizing the weaknesses of others.
If we choose to break from this pattern, we must be ready for persecution. The person who doesn’t participate in darkness quickly becomes its enemy. If mercy has been discarded, then the one who wishes to retrieve it will endure opposition, misunderstanding, and slander.
The eighth Beatitude given by the Lord Jesus calls his followers, and all people of goodwill, to a willingness to suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. With the reminder of this commission at the forefront, it’s worth asking: Is there anything more righteous or holy than mercy? Of the many things that might cause us suffering, is there anything more noble to suffer for than a sincere act of mercy?
In Western societies, those who are persecuted are not always given physical punishment, as so many Christians face today in the Middle East and in other parts of the world. Sometimes the suffering can be in the social, occupational, economic, or recreational areas of life.
With the above clarification, however, it must still be emphasized that the most fundamental persecution is that which causes death to the witness. Accepting this reality can be a hard thing for a person of goodwill.
Of course, the Christ who gives a summons to mercy and persecution is also a Christ who does not teach as an outsider. He is someone who lived and taught within the human family. In his own messianic work, the Lord suffered in order to defeat darkness and experience the fullness of human life. He readily accepted all forms of suffering.
And so, leading us as the Good Shepherd, he desires to teach us the power of mercy and the purpose of suffering.
In taking on our human nature, the Lord Jesus embraced our suffering, body and soul. From his life of poverty, to living as a refugee in a foreign land, to being hunted down as a criminal, to the frustration of learning a trade, to the death of his foster father, to his experience of being tired and thirsty, as well as being misunderstood, rejected, and unloved.
All of these sufferings, taken on for the sake of our redemption, culminated in the cruelty and torture of his passion and the humiliations and asphyxiation of his death. He chose to accept and use suffering—which has been a pivotal dilemma and source of anguish throughout human history—as the very means to manifest his love and restore righteousness to the human family. And so suffering would become the instrument of goodness and salvation.
In an age when the human person is approached so often as a means of pleasure or utility, when so many are convinced that their personhood and dignity (and those of others) are based on what they can accomplish, control, or hoard, Christian believers – and people of goodwill -believe, stand up, speak, and are willing to suffer persecution in holding and asserting that all men and women are worthy of kindness and the mercy of another chance.
And so, following the beatitudinal way, our willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness is nourished and enriched by a desire to be poor in spirit, sorrowful over sin, meek, thirsty and hungry for holiness, merciful, pure of heart, and committed to peace.
This is the path to a life well loved. It’s a way of life that moves us beyond the small enclosure of our own world. It shows us and helps us to contribute to a world that is broad in its spectrum and open in its compassion.
This is the path of righteousness highlighted by the Lord Jesus on this Divine Mercy Sunday. It’s a path offered to all people who seek mercy, are willing to give it, ask for it, and seek a renewed culture that embraces and generously shares it.