Lent

I'm coining a new phrase - Personal Mercy Warrior ("PMW").  I came up with it to juxtapose another phrase most of us today are all too familiar with - Social Justice Warrior ("SJW").  I think I'd rather be a PMW than a SJW.  Let me explain.

SJW's are all the rage these days (no pun intended).  Turn on the TV or log on to the internet for five minutes, and you'll see countless stories about protests, marches, and speeches against various societal inequalities in the areas of sex/gender, race, economics, etc. Many of these SJW's devote their entire existence to correcting these inequalities solely through group identity and macro, governmental solutions.  From their media-built pulpits, they scream about how men are oppressing women, whites are oppressing people of color, and the rich are oppressing the poor. "Justice," the SJW's say, demands radical change and action!.

One thing you rarely hear at a SJW rally, however, is any serious discussion of mercy.  That is a shame, because justice and mercy cannot exist without one another.  They are two sides of a coin.  Without mercy, justice becomes tyrannical. Without justice, mercy becomes mushy, sentimental and, in the end, incomprehensible.  For many SJW's, however, mercy has been subsumed within--even swallowed up--by justice.

I've been thinking and praying a lot about God's mercy lately. The depths of God's mercy are unfathomable.  When you boil it down, the entirety of Sacred Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is really just one long distillation of God's mercy towards us.  As part of that exercise, I've been reading St. Pope John Paul II's 1980 Encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy).  It is a beautiful exploration of God's Mercy and how both the Church and each individual can manifest that mercy in the world.  I think it is safe to say that when he wrote the encyclical in 1980, the future Saint had never heard the term "social justice warrior."  But you would never know that from reading the document.  Like most Saints' writings, Pope John Paul II's thoughts here are timeless and prophetic.  Several passages address the interplay between justice and mercy, at times as if he was writing directly to the modern SJW crowd.

First, the Saint recognizes that justice, in and of itself, cannot bring about meaningful change in the world:

The experience of the past and of our own time demonstrates that justice alone is not enough, that it can lead to the negation and destruction of itself, if the deeper power, which is love, is not allowed to shape human life in its various dimensions."

Shortly thereafter, he explains how modern "human opinions" misunderstand mercy in both idea and practice, therefore leading to the exclusive focus on justice:

These [human] opinions see mercy as a unilateral act or process, presupposing and maintaining a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it, between the one who does good and the one who receives it.  Hence the attempt to free interpersonal and social relationships from mercy and to base them solely on justice.

I have no doubt that today some SJW's see their efforts as a work of mercy.  And, to be sure, helping those that are oppressed can be a great act of mercy.  But by focusing on group identity and large-scale, government solutions--to the exclusion of the individual--it becomes all too easy, as John Paul II says, to maintain "a certain distance between the one practicing mercy and the one benefitting from it."  No matter how much I may identify or sympathize with a victim group, I can truly love only a person. I can only show mercy to an individual.  Yet, "true mercy is, so to speak, the most profound source of justice." Building on that, the Saint then goes on to discuss what many SJW's today fail to understand:

Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of 'equality' between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well . . . However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another.

Equality!  Now there's something we can all get on board with (SJW's especially). But, as John Paul II explains, the pure justice practiced so often today limits equality to "objective and extrinsic goods."  Again, only mercy and love allow us to meet another person face to face--to see the image and likeness of God within, and treat the person with the dignity flowing from that.  The Saint then concludes:

Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood.  It is impossible to establish this bond between people if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice.

To be clear, I'm not saying that certain inequalities and victims thereof do not exist. Nor am I saying that the idea of "social justice" (at least as understood and developed within the Social Doctrine of the Church) is not a necessary and often useful endeavor. What I am saying though, and truly believe, is that only through showing mercy and love to the individual, rather than seeking solely justice for a group, can we bring real change to our fallen world.  Of course, St. John Paul II expresses this better than I can:

Society can become ever more human only if we introduce into the many-sided setting of interpersonal and social relationships, not merely justice, but also that 'merciful love' which constitutes the messianic message of the Gospel.

So, through the inspiration and intercession of St. Pope John Paul II, let us be PMW's instead of SJW's, especially during this time of Lent.  May we personally (P) seek out the downtrodden and less fortunate in our midst instead of simply decrying social wrongs.  May we show mercy (M) to each individual we encounter instead of demanding merely justice for a group.  And may we be warriors (W) for this personal mercy, fighting to win souls for Christ, rather than faux warriors for bumper sticker justice.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."  (Matt. 5:7)

Saint Pope John Paul the Great, pray for us!

God love you.

(Pictured above, Image of Divine Mercy from St. Faustina Kowalska, painted by Eugene Kazimierowski)

We all experience darkness at some point in our lives.  But what comes after that darkness--how we choose to respond to it--usually determines the course of our earthly lives and beyond.  Just as God gives us small foretastes of heaven from time to time in order to remind us that this world is not our true home, so He allows us to suffer desolation when we separate ourselves from him through sin: the darkness of Hell.

I've been reading the book of Exodus as part of my Lenten journey this year.  As is often the case with Sacred Scripture, the typology, symbolism and foreshadowing of Christ and the New Covenant contained within the Exodus story has been truly eye-opening.  Christ as the new Moses, the slavery of the Israelites v. the slavery of sin, and the parting of the Red Sea as a type of Baptism are just a few examples that come to mind.  Yet one short passage in Chapter 10 has spoken to me more than any other so far: the plague of darkness.  Recall that God--working through Moses and Aaron--had sent eight plagues upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians--none of which had yet convinced Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery.  Pharaoh's heart remained hardened.  For the ninth plague, "the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch our your hand toward heaven that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.'"  (Exodus 10:21)  Then "there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; they did not see one another, nor did any rise from his place for three days."  (10:22-23)

A darkness to be felt - the words literally jumped off the page at me the first time I read them.  As I prayed and meditated on the passage, it struck me how well these words described all those times in my life when I've been away from God.  I can vividly recall occasions where this "thick darkness" consumed me; a darkness felt in the very depths of the soul.  Even more, this darkness can be so pervasive that it causes us to lose sight of God and prevents us from seeing the needs of others in our life.  It can be so all-consuming that we lose the desire and ability to "rise from [our] place," pick up our cross, and follow Christ once more.

Yet even in the darkness, God never abandons us.  Because His light--the light of Christ--"shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."  (John 1:5) No matter how thick the darkness may be or how deeply it is felt, the Light will always break through if we but open our eyes a little to see it.  The Light may seem distant; the rays may be tiny at first.  But inevitably, at some point, God opens the curtains to the darkened intellect of our minds, calling us to Himself,  reminding us of His love, mercy and forgiveness.

Of course, how we choose to respond to the darkness--and the eventual cracks of Light--remains totally up to us.  Although the plague of darkness initially caused Pharaoh to relent and let the Israelites go, he quickly changed his mind; his heart hardening when he learned that the Lord also demanded that he let the Israelites take their "flocks and herds" with them.  (Exodus 10:24-28)  "Get away from me," he said to Moses (10:28), but really he was saying this to God.  For as miserable as the darkness was, Pharaoh preferred it over the will of God.  "[T]he light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light."  (John 3:19-20)  And so it is with  us sometimes.  Perhaps we've lived in darkness so long that our eyes have become used to it, fooling us into to believing that we can actually see reality.  In that condition, the Light is a shock to the senses, and--like coming out of a darkened theater into the sunlight--we cover our eyes and curse the illumination.  Or, sometimes, as appealing as the Light may be initially, there is something we are unwilling to give up--the "flocks and herds" representing the pet sins in our lives that the Evil One has convinced us we cannot live without.  So we retreat back into the familiarity and false comfort of the darkness.

It does not have to be so.  Jesus tell us: "I am the light o the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."  (John 8:12) As much as we yearn for this light of life--for deliverance from the darkness--Jesus desires to give it to us even more.  And no matter how many times we turn him away, shutting our eyes to the Light and returning to the darkness, he will never stop seeking to shine His Light upon us.  The painting above illustrates this truth as well as anything I've ever seen.  It sits on my desk at work, and sometimes I feel like I could gaze upon it for hours.  Notice how Jesus appears to be in a darkened forest (or perhaps a garden) as he approaches a wooden door, carrying the Light he seeks to give all men.  The door has not been opened for some time, evidenced by the growth of brush and brambles over and about it.  Gently, he knocks on the door.  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him . . ."  (Revelation 3:20) "Open the door or your heart to me," He says, "you have been in darkness long enough.  Don't you realize that I too suffered the darkness when I walked this earth?"  Indeed, though He was without sin, Jesus experienced the agony of the effects it, taking on the sins (past, present and future) of the entire world into his very being--a darkness felt so much that he sweated drops of blood.  (Luke 22:44) We have a Savior who knows what true darkness is; a Savior who conquered that same darkness of sin and death the Cross.

St. Augustine wrote: "[O]nce a man cries out from the depths, he rises because his very cry will not suffer him to be at the bottom for long."  So as we approach the end of Lent and the start of Holy Week, let us cry out to God and allow Him to raise us out of the depths of darkness.  For He intended from the beginning of creation for us all to be "sons of light and sons of day . . . not of the night or of darkness."  (1 Thessalonians 5:5)  And then, on that glorious Easter morning, may we all bathe anew in the Light of His Resurrection.

God love you.

Happy Lent!  Here is a short poem I composed, reflecting on the purpose for which God made us, and the means he gives us to get there--Himself!  I pray it speaks to you in some small way.

Why, O God?  Why am I here?

I need not exist; I know that for sure

Yet I never seem to have a heart that is pure

I fall short of your glory, succumb to my fear.


Before you created me, this world spun around

Men came and went--some lost, others found

And so it will be, long after I am gone

Memories will fade, dawn after dawn.


But for now I am a pilgrim on this journey called life

None of the stops on the way fully satisfy my heart

As if a small piece has been cut out with a knife

And the hole left behind slowly tears me apart.


Many long years, this hole have I tried to fill

For that purpose, the world offers no shortage of dirt

Yet the more shoveled in only increases the hurt

My heart was meant for more than vain glory and a cheap thrill


But lo, in the darkness, I saw a great light

And heard a small voice, as I trembled with fright

What was said is quite ancient, yet made present again and again:

"He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him."


O Jesus, my Dear Savior, fill my heart with a small piece of Yours 

At last I know what makes my heart full

The love from this Sacrament, Your divine life it outpours

Until I am home at the heavenly banquet, to which all men You pull.

God love you.