I care about God’s mercy because I’m a sinner. What that means depends on who says it.
I think and hope Jonathan Edwards meant well, and wish some of his imitators would be less enthusiastic. Or at least think about what he said.
Hollywood theology — I’d like to believe that many folks don’t get their religious education from the movies, and that’s another topic.
Basically, Americans have lots of options for what we think “sin” and “sinners” mean.
I’m a Catholic, so my view is ‘none of the above.’
I’m not “some loathsome insect,” either.
That sort of thing made “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” a bestseller, and still permeates American notions of Christianity. (March 5, 2017)
Two more ‘what I don’t think’ ideas, and I’ll move on.
I do not think “sin” is doing something from a list of activities I don’t like or can’t enjoy.
I commit a sin whenever I don’t love God and my neighbor, and act as if everyone is my neighbor. (Matthew 22:36–40, Mark 12:28–31; Matthew 5:43–44; Mark 12:28–31; Luke 10:25–30; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1825)
Doing what’s right and avoiding what’s a bad idea would be a lot easier if the first of us hadn’t made a really bad decision. We’re still living with the consequences of that wrong turn. (Catechism, 396–412)
But that doesn’t make humanity basically bad. What and who we are hasn’t changed.
We’re rational creatures. We can decide what we do, like angels. Unlike angels, we are also material creatures: spiritual beings with a body made from the stuff of this world. (Catechism, 311, 325–348, 1704, 1730–1731)
We’re still made “in the divine image,” as Genesis 1:27 puts it.
The first of us — Adam and Eve aren’t German1 — decided to do what they wanted, even though it meant disobeying God. Then Adam tried blaming his wife, and God. Things went downhill from there. (Genesis 3:1–12)
Original sin, the Catholic view, is that we’re still made “in the divine image.” We started out in harmony with ourselves, with the world, and with God: but that harmony is broken.(Genesis 1:27, Genesis 3:5–3:13)
Making wise choices would be easier if we weren’t living with consequences of a original sin, but that’s out of my hands.
Trying to do what is right doesn’t set me apart from the rest of humanity.
We’re not divided into ‘good’ people who are like me and ‘bad’ people who aren’t. Life isn’t that simple.
“…But there is another temptation which we must especially guard against: the simplistic reductionism which sees only good or evil; or, if you will, the righteous and sinners….”2
(“Visit to the Congress of the United States of America,” Pope Francis (September 24, 2015))
Where I go is up to me. Nobody’s dragged, kicking and screaming, into Heaven. At my particular judgment I could walk away from our Lord. It’s a daft option: but it is an option. (Catechism, 1021–1022)
I hope for mercy, so I try to forgive others. (Matthew 6: 12)
“13 ‘Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.
“Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.’ ”
Our Lord set a very high standard for forgiveness:
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
So is having good judgment. Judging whether an act is good or bad is a basic requirement for being human. It’s part of using my conscience. We’re even expected to think about the actions of others. (Catechism, 1778, 2401–2449)
That’s because sin isn’t just about me and God. I’m not loving my neighbor if I see nothing wrong with someone hurting my neighbor. (Catechism, 2196)
The idea is hating the sin, loving the sinner: and leaving the judging of persons to God. (Catechism, 1861)
Before a quick overview of Divine Mercy Sunday, and the Divine Mercy devotion here in Sauk Centre; the best news we’ve ever had: God loves us, and wants to adopt us. All of us. (John 1:12–14, 3:17; Romans 8:14–17; Peter 1:3–4; Catechism, 27–30, 52, 1825, 1996)
The Divine Mercy3 devotion started in Poland, where Saint Maria Faustyna (Faustina) Kowalska lived.
I’ve heard that official approval of the devotion took as long as it did in part because her diary was written in Polish. Folks at the Vatican had been reading a botched translation.
We eventually got a Polish pope, Pope Saint John Paul II, who could read the diary in its original Polish. That was good news for folks here in Sauk Centre, and elsewhere.
Divine Mercy Sunday is the Sunday following Easter, so it moves around the calendar a bit. This year it’s April 23, today.
There’s an image associated with the devotion, showing Jesus with two rays coming from our Lord’s wounded heart. One is red, the other white — representing blood and water. (John 19:34)
Sauk Centre, Minnesota, was dedicated to the Divine Mercy on Divine Mercy Sunday, 1982. That’s the year my wife and I married. It’s her home town, we moved here a few years later, and that’s yet another topic.
Our Divine Mercy devotion uses a carving my father-in-law made, based on St. Faustina’s picture. A photo like the one up there takes its place at St. Paul’s church, when the carving is on tour.
Pope St. John Paul II talked about the Divine Mercy, and what the red and white rays mean, when Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska was canonized:
“…‘Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever’ (Ps 118: 1). So the Church sings on the Octave of Easter, as if receiving from Christ’s lips these words of the Psalm; from the lips of the risen Christ, who bears the great message of divine mercy and entrusts its ministry to the Apostles in the Upper Room: ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’ (Jn 20: 21–23).
“Before speaking these words, Jesus shows his hands and his side. He points, that is, to the wounds of the Passion, especially the wound in his heart, the source from which flows the great wave of mercy poured out on humanity. From that heart Sr Faustina Kowalska, the blessed whom from now on we will call a saint, will see two rays of light shining from that heart and illuminating the world: ‘The two rays’, Jesus himself explained to her one day, ‘represent blood and water’ (Diary, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, p. 132)….”
(“Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska,” Pope John Paul II (April 30, 2000) (Divine Mercy Sunday) [emphasis mine])
More of my take on mercy, love, and living as if God matters:
- “Living With Consequences”
(March 5, 2017)
- “Who is My Neighbor?”
(February 1, 2017)
- “Sin, Awareness, Repentance”
(December 4, 2016)
- “Mercy: Still Practicing”
(November 20, 2016)
- “Hating People: Not an Option”
(November 15, 2016)
I think the Genesis account of our origin and fall is true.
“ORIGINAL SIN: The sin by which the first human beings disobeyed the commandment of God, choosing to follow their own will rather than God’s will. As a consequence they lost the grace of original holiness, and became subject to the law of death; sin became universally present in the world. Besides the personal sin of Adam and Eve, original sin describes the fallen state of human nature which affects every person born into the world, and from which Christ, the ‘new Adam,’ came to redeem us (396–412).”
“SIN: An offense against God as well as a fault against reason, truth, and right conscience. Sin is a deliberate thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the eternal law of God. In judging the gravity of sin, it is customary to distinguish between mortal and venial sins (1849, 1853, 1854).”
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, Glossary)
- “Misericordiae Vultus – Bull of indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy”
Pope Francis (April 11, 2015) (the day before Divine Mercy Sunday)
- “Holy Mass and the Canonization of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II”
Pope Francis (April 27, 2014) (Divine Mercy Sunday)
- “Mass and Dedication of the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Kraków-Łagiewniki: Homily”
Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Voyage to Poland (August 17, 2002)
- “Canonization of Sr. Mary Faustina Kowalska”
Pope St. John Paul II (April 30, 2000) (Divine Mercy Sunday)
- “Mary Faustina Kowalska”
News Services, Vatican.va
- Marians of the Immaculate Conception
- Association of Marian Helpers
Stockbridge, MA 01263-0004
- 1 800 462 7426
- Association of Marian Helpers