“Two men went up into the temple to pray; one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Gospel of St. Luke 18:10-14 (RSV Translation)
Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repent.” The “problem” with mercy is that we need to repent in order to receive it. Furthermore, in order to repent we need to know our sins. The price of mercy was Jesus’ Precious Blood on the Cross. The most precious gem we can harvest from God is His love, and from this flows His Mercy. When Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, He showed her His unconditional love by showing her His Divine Mercy, but He also showed her His Divine Justice – “go and sin no more.” Jesus was basically saying that He forgives her, but sin no more against me, because it’s unjust to sin against God. So often, we want mercy and forgiveness without repentance. So many people today believe it is just and fine to sin against God or that what He calls sin really isn’t sin “to me,” that “might be true for you, but it’s not for me.”
This November 20 will end the “Year of Mercy” declared by Pope Francis, but it should only be the beginning of an era that must be marked by a rekindling or renewal in the sense of the sacredness, divinity, supernatural nature, omnipotence and awesomeness of God. We need to recapture in the West, especially, the true understanding of who God is and who we are by studying the “theological time bomb,” a phrase coined by George Weigel referring to the Theology of the Body. If a new and true era of mercy is going to happen, we have to once again understand our need for mercy. Pope Francis is right in that we can’t just preach on condemning moral behaviors. We have to start from the beginning in the Garden of Eden and who we are as men and women. If Western society cannot understand our original innocence, original unity, original solitude in the Garden of Eden, before the fall of our first parents, then we will never capture a true Catholic understanding of man, which is called anthropology. This is exactly why Pope Saint John Paul II saw the need to develop and “adequate anthropology,” called a Theology of the Body. We have lost the sense of what it means to be human, because we have cut ourselves off from our origin, our Creator, Who is God. More than ever before we need to be immersed in the catechesis, Theology of the Body.
Just as people were scandalized by Jesus’ actions 2000 years ago by His “merciful conduct toward sinners” (CCC 589), so today some, including some clergy, are scandalized by St. John Paul II’s view of mankind, rooted in the truth of who we are and who God is calling us to become – Himself. No, we cannot do this on our own, the sin of self-reliance, but with God “nothing is impossible.” When we adopt, as many in the West have done, a faulty understanding of mankind, that we are completely corrupted, then we come to believe we began at the fall and this is all we can be, the sum of our sins. However, once we de-bunk the devil’s lies he has perpetrated though this faulty anthropology, then we can start to learn a true understanding of who God is, not the militant tyrant in Heaven ready to strike us down, but a loving Father, our papa, ready to forgive, heal, love and “mercify us.”
St. John Paul II through his beautiful reflections on the Book of Genesis, Song of Songs, Book of Tobit and Ephesians 5 which are part of Theology of the Body, we come to learn the true intimacy God wants to have with us and that He truly wants to marry us here and now, foreshadowed by His Holy Sacraments, which will be fully revealed in Heaven. Pope Francis wrote in his book The Name of God is Mercy, “we stand before God who knows our sins, our betrayals, our wretchedness. And yet he is there waiting for us, ready to give Himself completely to us, to lift us up.” Jesus indeed condescended upon us on earth and was made incarnate to redeem us to God and ransom us from the Devil. We also know that while God wants desperately to show us His mercy He, through His Divine Son Jesus, constantly calls us to repentance and faithfulness in the Sacred Scriptures. Theology of the Body teaches us that we are not the sum of our sins, but that we are a people in need of a savior, in need of His grace and that in order to be merciful to others we need to learn how to receive God’s mercy to heal us and guide us to our nuptial union with Christ in Heaven. In order to learn how to love, we need to learn how to receive God’s love, which is a form of receiving mercy. If we learn how to receive love and mercy, then we can love and serve as Christ loves the Church, in spousal, self-giving love. Since we know our true origin, the meaning of our dignity, and that we are God’s adopted children, we should never let anyone use us or anyone else.
In conclusion, we are about to end the official “Year of Mercy,” but by immersing oneself in St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body we can indeed have deeper understanding of who we truly are, who God truly is, and the dignity of the human person. It will also help us understand what our sexuality is meant for and the true love God has for us and hence a new era, a new millennium rooted in His mercy, because it will be a culture rooted in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ through the Theology of the Body. Amen.
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three-year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.