Today is Day 1 of the Divine Mercy novena, and it comes not a moment too soon.
As Billy Graham put it (actually, it was his wife): “If God doesn’t punish America, he’ll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.”
A lot of Americans feel that way right now.
Legalization of same-sex marriage, in one fell swoop, will not just include more people in the category of “married.” It will legally declare adherents of the four major religions to be bigots because of their beliefs about marriage. Homosexual marriage means aggressive secularism will have the law of the land firmly on its side as it takes on believing Jews, devout Muslims, Hindu families, and mainstream Christians including Catholic men, women and children.
Hope can seem hard to find faced with such a development.
But for Catholics, hope should never be hard to find: It is the cross. The cross is hope for us because it shows the two aspects of God: His justice and his mercy.
With the cross, God says that the great sins of the world need to be expiated. The murders, rapes, betrayals and blasphemies of mankind cannot be shrugged off: They must be punished. Severely. But then the cross shows God’s mercy because he chooses to suffer the punishment on our behalf.
As Pope Benedict put it: “[T]he anger and mercy of the Lord alternate in a dramatic sequence, but love triumphs in the end, for God is love.”
This means we can have always have hope – but we can never have an easy, happy hope. Opponents in the culture and in the courts are not going to go away. A happy-talking politician who promises economic comfort is not going to return us to a Christian culture. We are not going to find the silver-bullet movement or issue that will restore the balance.
Our only hope is one that is founded in God’s actions, not ours.
We only have hope because Jesus is a savior.
We forget what a savior is sometimes. A savior isn’t someone who stands above the world’s dark ways and demands that we crawl out to him. A savior is someone who brings light into our dark world and leads us out.
A savior isn’t someone who disdains the mess we have gotten in and demands we clean up our act or suffer his wrath. A savior enters the mess and himself cleans it up.
Our savior does just that today. He encounters us in his mercy and transforms the world.
“Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person: Encountering Christ means encountering the mercy of God,” said Pope Benedict. “The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil. Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force. He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love.”
Our society has made a mess of things in many ways. Our time is marked by the sexual revolution, aggressive secularism, and the violence of abortion. We are each among the people implicated in it. It is a false hope to think we can work ourselves out of the darkness we are in. That just isn’t possible. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we are not the saviors of our world anyway. To reverse a recent political slogan: We are not the ones we have been waiting for.
Jesus Christ is our savior. And Jesus is merciful — and not just merciful; he’s anxious to take the first steps to save us.
All our hope lies with him. All we have to do is beg for mercy and follow him through the darkness and out the other side.
I have no idea how he will save his people. But I know he will.
We can start by following the last three popes’ urgent calls and pray for Divine Mercy.