Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
May the grace and mercy of our risen Lord Jesus Christ continue to pour into your hearts and lives with great abundance! It was such a joy for me to celebrate the triduum of our Lord’s passion and resurrection with so many of you. I am so grateful to all those who worked to make our liturgies at the Cathedral reverent and beautiful, and inclusive. I hope all of you experience the same feeling in your own parishes. Please join me in thanking your priests, and all the others who were involved in planning and carrying out our worship of God, for their hard work, and pray for them!
I am also very grateful to all of you who support and encourage and participate in the Easter novena to the Divine Mercy. This growing devotion is so important, and so fitting to our times. We live in a culture that increasingly does not believe in mercy, but only in power and coercion. In such a world, there is little forgiveness, less reconciliation, and no sympathy for weakness. That’s why abortion is seen as a solution for the weakness of the unborn. That’s why euthanasia is seen as a solution for the weakness of the elderly and the ill. That’s why our politics are increasingly radicalized and hate-filled, more about scoring victories than about doing what is good and right for all. Without mercy, there can be neither love nor justice.
Pope Francis convoked the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy on Saturday. He, too, knows the important part mercy plays in our world today.
In the face of our culture today, the mercy of Jesus Christ is so much needed! Not just for the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of us sinners with God, but even for the simplest acts of kindness, the mercy of Jesus Christ enacted in his passion must remain our model. We are called to love even our enemies. We can only do this by steeping our hearts in Christ’s mercy.
Every Easter, we renew our baptismal promises. We recommit ourselves, year after year, to rejecting sin, even though it fascinates and tempts us with its fleeting illusion of pleasure. We recommit ourselves, year after year, to loving God and neighbor more than we love ourselves, so that we will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to live out such love concretely. And we receive, again and again, the mercy of Jesus Christ who forgives our sins, and heals our hearts, so that we can truly love.
This is what the resurrection of our Lord means for us. This is the same mercy that we are called to share with others every day. Sometimes, sharing Christ’s mercy with others means being crucified with him, just as we are seeing in the Middle East and Africa.
In a quite similar way, in Indiana recently, those who passed and defended a law to protect the religious freedom of all were mercilessly and unjustly attacked as bigots and intolerant haters. It should be clear to us in the light of Christ’s glorious resurrection that hatred and intolerance are expressed in the unwillingness to accept that others might disagree with you, and not in the desire to give all citizens equal freedom not to be coerced into acting against deeply held beliefs. I am disappointed that the amendment of the law so greatly weakened its effectiveness in defending religious freedom.
Or again, I and many of us have experienced this sort of crucifixion with Jesus in being reviled simply for praying outside abortion clinics, or even in public at all, or simply for being recognizably a follower of Jesus Christ. In these sorts of cases, mercy means that we stand consistently for the truth, returning a blessing for violence, and patience for hatred.
Other times, sharing Christ’s mercy is a much more ordinary experience. Among our friends, family and co-workers, there are always those with whom we disagree about something, or who annoy us with some insignificant habit or quirk. Here, mercy can mean being more patient with others, being as slow as possible to take offense and as willing as possible to give others the benefit of the doubt. If more of us were willing to let things go more often, rather than pushing back in mounting anger at perceived slights, would not the world be a better place for all?
But notice that mercy never means that sin doesn’t matter. Our Lord told the woman taken in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” Mercy is never the willingness to imagine that sin might be good in itself. That lie is always of the devil, and it always leads to deeper slavery to sin. Rather, just as Jesus did in his passion, mercy means that we seek opportunities for forgiveness and healing of sin.
As Jesus prayed, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” so must we live the same mercy by offering, as much as possible, our forgiveness to those who have offended us. We are allowed by God, indeed we are required, to defend ourselves, those for whom we are responsible, and whatever is true and good. All this is natural justice. But we can only imitate our Lord fully, when we seize every opportunity for reconciliation and healing with our neighbor. And this is Christ-like love.
As we continue to celebrate the season of Easter, I urge you to seek Christ’s abundant mercy more and more, so that we may be ambassadors of his mercy to a world starving for it. May the blessings of the resurrection bring you grace and new life! Happy Easter!
Your brother in Christ,
Most Reverend R. Walker Nickless
Bishop of Sioux City