If we think that the theme of the mercy of God is something invented or discovered by Pope Francis, we need to re-think. We have only to go back about a hundred years, actually.
Consider a prayer many of us pray several times a day: “O my Jesus, forgive us our sins; save us from the fires of hell. Lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.” At the end of every mystery of the Rosary, we beg God’s forgiveness and mercy through Jesus Christ, as the Blessed Mother asked of the children at Fatima. But this prayer raises an interesting question: who are the ones we think are “in most need” of God’s mercy?
The quick answer for many of us, I think, is that those who are the worst sinners are most in need—provided, of course, they repent sufficiently! Our thoughts might turn toward the terrorists who perpetrated the attacks of 11 September. Or they might focus on bishops who covered up clergy sexual abuse of children for the sake of “saving the Church.” Perhaps we would think of gang leaders and drug lords like Pablo Escobar, who hold the lives of others as so much rubbish to be disposed of in the name of self-interest and profits. Or we might see neo-Nazis and other racists who somehow think that church shootings and church burnings are proper forms of political “discourse.” There are so many examples of “those in most need” of mercy…
And there is one more: myself.
How often do we (or should we) examine our own lives for failures to love; for ways in which our responses to others have driven them away from rather than attracted them to the Lord. Who might I have hurt through my own insensitivity or abruptness? How do I acknowledge hurts from the past (perhaps the distant past) in an effort to see the need for healing that I have as a result? How open am I to those measures that might be painful or difficult but which are the path to that healing?
It is so desperately easy to listen to Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) and congratulate ourselves that we are not “convinced of our own righteousness” like the Pharisee, forgetting that by that very act we have become exactly like the Pharisee! We all stand in need of mercy. As St Paul put it, God gave us all up to our disobedience that He might have mercy on us all (Romans 11:32). We all stand “most in need” of God’s mercy through Jesus Christ; on this Divine Mercy Sunday we celebrate the gift given to us that we so badly require.