Two men in suits rang my bell today. There was no chime as the battery is dead. In a moment of weakness I ducked my head under a blanket and considered if they were politicians, Jehovah’ Witnesses, or unusual door to door sales men? I peered back out and the two were conversing casually patiently. Now the lead unwanted intruder into my Saturday a.m. peace knocked at the door.
Reluctantly my Christian attitude kicked in and my juvenile inclination to avoid this encounter subsided. Baptist preachers they turned out to be inviting me to their 53rd Anniversary tomorrow. Several steps below my anathema for Jehovah Witnesses these two would be simple to dispatch.
The main doctrinal differences with the Catholic Church are significant but not opposed to the central tenets of our mutual belief in Jesus Christ. Baptist believe in baptism for adults (people ready to fully accept God) versus Catholics that perform infant baptisms. Baptist has a strong message of salvation through faith in God alone whereas Catholics have the same and the rich traditions of the Holy Sacraments. Many Baptist are Catholics who have been re-baptized as adults. There is a further theological split in history between Baptist and Anabaptist. There is no end to the divisions and splinters of Christianity from the great schism in 1054, to the Protestant Reformation, and the very history of the formation of the Roman Catholic Church itself.[i] Our shared history beyond the historical life of Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection is often muddied and convoluted by century’s old theological and religious interpretation – not to mention political influences and outright co-opted churches and religious leaders.
Sometimes people do not want to hear your version of Christianity!
Warm greeting, gratitude for their visit and evangelism to the community, acceptance of pamphlets and wish you a good day was not enough to dispatch these two gentlemen.
The opener debate was do you believe your eternal life (going to heaven) is certain? No, I answered. He answered it is certain if I believe and quoted John 3:17. I knew enough of the bible both old and new to advise him it would be foolish of me to assume with certainty my belief that I had a spot in heaven with certainty and I would deem anyone proclaiming this with certainty foolish as well.
He returned to his certitude for which I am sincerely joyful for him and for his neophyte, if not outright jealous of their confidence. He did acknowledge he could not know but the bible tells him it is so and again quoted John 3:17. On his way the two left I presume feeling somewhat purposeful on having educated and delivered a nugget of salvation to this misinformed Catholic.
Perhaps it is a good thing Catholics generally do not go door to door.[ii] The greatest blemishes of the Catholic Church, aside from pedophile, includes the dark history of persecuting heretics, the holy crusades, inquisitions, anti-semanticist positions, and other grave errors as an institution. Lest we forget we must never error to assume that we possess alone the self-righteous authority to impose our will on others under the name of our God. We remain with at least one solid foot grounded in this earthly existence and with that equal opportunity to perform evil actions contrary to what is divinely defined as living a holy life.
These two were lucky I did not invite them in to my home with my faith’s religious history of addressing non-conformist! Now that they have left safely, I can’t but help take a look at John 3:17:
17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”
Not to compelling with that little word “might” at the end of the sentence. Maybe I should see if they still are on the block? Let me not blot their day and impinge on others receiving a nugget of confrontation with the Baptist and bible scripture.
Holy Mercy: (Chapter 15)
I was not inspired this morning to write on “Holy Mercy,” continuation of my review of “Transformation in Christ” by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (DVH). However, this morning interlude with the door knockers awoke me to the distinction between showing Mercy and Receiving Divine Mercy.
Human Compassion and Mercy:
Dietrich defines for us, to keep things clear, the distinction between mercy and compassion. Compassion presupposes we are equal with the person we are giving comfort and aid to and we are demonstrating we too are like them, we understand and could very well be in their shoes.
Mercy by its nature says I am greater than you! It implies a power differential that simply cannot be ignored. It is the elephant in the room. The fate of one is at the mercy of the other. It can be an uncomfortable situation for both parties.
How do you know if you are even in the position to perform Acts of Mercy? Mercy is to give only if we have the power to effect change in the subject we give our Mercy to and we do so humbly without benefit to ourselves.
It is a unique situation where we do something we are not obligated to do like forgive a debt (unconditionally), feed the poor (without a tax break, social status credit, or other self-interest motive), or forgive a personal injury at the hands of another (like not to prosecute a thief).
It is in its nature pretentious and condescending as we are the sole driver of the action and we in essence take pity on the recipient by showing mercy.
Through these actions, if we demonstrate Mercy towards others, we can get a glimpse of divine mercy.
Active Acts of Mercy and Charity:
“Whenever we have to deal with a person laboring under any kind of inferiority, whether it is moral depravity or intellectual debility, vital deficiency or lack of culture, a misshapen body or grievous poverty, or any sort of social disability – we must not only not enjoy our advantage but painstakingly avoid letting our partner feel his inferiority in any fashion. In charity we must draw him to ourselves so as to extinguish in him all sense of oppression and inferiority.” (DVH)
What is your true instinctual response when confronted with abject poverty, disease, moral depravity, or physical deformities that are neither your responsibility or within your personal or professional calling in life? Do you consider acts of Mercy as often as you can? The Catholic Church in its year of mercy provides 14 examples of works of Mercy:
Now back to the question of the door knockers: Can we be certain of our own eternal life? Without witnessing acts of mercy, receiving mercy, or performing acts of Mercy the path to certainty of eternal life by divine mercy through faith alone is a steep climb.
The Baptist Pastor and I are saying the same thing – without a grounded faith (which if true and genuine beyond throwing coins into the offering plate) we are apt to have no reference to truly believe in eternal life.
The pastor appears on the surface to have greater certainty than me in his redemption and in all likelihood will be judged more favorably than I with regards to his unwavering faith. His evangelical work no doubt re-enforces his faith. He has the knowledge that faith includes deeds and action. For him it is one and the same. Still I believe his certainty is taking for granted the limited nature of human understanding of how God may interpret our worthiness.
I have to turn to James to expand on the “may” term above and put caution to relying on faith alone:
14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food,16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good[a] is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” James 2:14-17
It seems to me faith alone not only short changes one’s long term eternal prospects but also ones immediate sense of purpose as well. What are we without actions and deeds? Our actions and deeds are perhaps the only capital we have to give. Everything else is given to us including our corporeal bodies, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
This is not such a tall task. What if we were to feed many tomorrow? Are we in good standing? The act of feeding the masses can be a noble act, but if done with wrong intention is perhaps worse than doing nothing at all.
Feeding the masses with the purpose to demonstrate to all who could see how good we are while also putting those we have fed in a position of indebtedness to us at the same time? Would this act be showing Mercy?
A criminal can be set free through no action of his own by a presidential pardon. Does President Trump’s string of pardons ring of genuine Mercy?
As it turns out dispatching Human Mercy turns it can be both extremely simple to carry out and equally simple to distort it’s holy purpose. “Mercy is an unmerited act of kindness to someone in need.”[iii]
In some cases to demonstrate Mercy may not benefit the one shown mercy or the one giving it and perhaps even harm others in the process. Mercy by definition contradicts our human measures of justice.
And yet we know it is called for and is honorable to perform acts of mercy when we find ourselves in the position to be able to effect a positive change. Dietrich retells the parable of the prodigal son returning home as an act of Mercy. How much more powerful is mercy when we show it to complete strangers?
Selig sind die Barmherzigen, denn sie werden die Barmherzigheit erlangen by Ernst Barloch, 1916 Lithograph
“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”[v]
You have signed on and accepted faith and acts are necessary for living a peaceful and holy life. On deeper examination our actions are still hollow if not linked to our understanding of Jesus Christ, the redeemer of our souls, who wiped away original sin and made possible, if we accept through faith his redemption, forgiveness of our multiple sins committed today, yesterday and tomorrow. In essence, if are so fortunate to be able to perform an act of mercy, we are doing so imitating Jesus Christ and the Holy Father, who gave his only son to redeem our souls. And if we were able to imitate Christ in this fashion we would surely perform such acts by “painstakingly avoiding letting our partner feel his inferiority in any fashion.” We ourselves, acting as we think Jesus Christ would want us to act, would by that very framework recognize humbly that our work is not ours, but the divinely inspired plan of God. We would be actualized in holy transformation. And by demonstrating mercy ourselves we open up ourselves to God’s mercy as well.
Our act of mercy would carry with it the power of the holy trinity infusing the act with a ray of love and purity of intent that would be truly transcendent.
If I have learned anything from seeking God, from reading transformation in Christ, from prayer and contemplation it is that I am imperfect and so comprehensively not saintly material. Without Divine Mercy I am hopelessly condemned by original sin (theologically) and by own folly in things trivial and serious. With God’s mercy and forgiveness and my faith and actions in earnest, Mercy is not guaranteed but highly likely if you share my view of God being a loving and personal god.
Dietrich spares only a little ink on God’s mercy. His intent is on how we transform our actions, not presuming to detail God’s infinite omnipresence and mercy in this chapter. However, we are not without guidance from the bible:
With God All Things Are Possible
23 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
25 When His disciples heard it, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?”
26 But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”[vi]
It would seem that this passage is similar to the message of the door knockers. Despite my actions all things are possible if it is God’s will.
The door knockers, Dietrich’s chapter on Holy Mercy, Sacred scripture, and the various footnoted references have emboldened me to say we can as imperfect people live our lives close to holiness today. Guided by the Sermon on the Mount, open to the Holy Spirit, practicing our faith through prayer and action, and refining ourselves through experiencing both joy and suffering we may be at peace when we lay our heads down in prayer, at day’s end, or life’s end, and have a confrontation with God. We can ask for Mercy tonight and every night before that final day. Hopefully we are not asking for Mercy for the same missteps night after night!
Still there is the nuisance of what it means to receive Mercy. It reminds us that Mercy is totally up to the entity that has the power to give us Mercy. For some of us the act of surrendering to God totally for what is his will (after having done our part to the best of our ability) is not easily done – especially when the outcome involves pain, suffering, loss, or even just minor inconveniences. The book of Job may have a lesson for us or even Jesus’s words on the cross: “Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matt 27:46.
At that the end of the day God may treat us as we have treated others. Perhaps now is the time more than ever to know where to put your trust? And than you will not have to ask me or the Baptist Pastor if we think eternal life is a certainty for the faithful.
Update: 1 John 5:13-15 New International Version (NIV). The Pastor also quoted this to me again the next day…..which is more direct!
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
Better yet, where in your life do you have the opportunity to practice Mercy?
It is mildly infuriating that we act and believe we are a merciful people and then as a nation we support politicians, policies, and social agenda’s that are contrary to any vestige of allowing for merciful treatment of arriving refugees or illegal immigrants here in the United States. Our current healthcare and safety net programs are also under vicious attack. We will have our confrontation with God if we seek him in prayer and in our final days. Even if we do not seek him confrontation awaits us at every turn in the immediacy of our every day life and at the end of times. We can choose to move closer to or farther away from God.
In the interim we are called to confront evil and fight for justice wherever we are given a platform and the tools to do so in a manner aligned with our beleifs. The latter baffles many. Too many are rendered silent or misguided in their actions – despite heart felt good intentions. God, have Mercy on us all.
Thank you for visiting my blog. Have a blessed day.
Addendum: I would be remiss to not mention Sister Faustina and her journal in which she records receiving divine revelations: “The message of The Divine Mercy is simple. It is that God loves us – all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others. Thus, all will come to share His joy.[vii] Sister Faustina is modern day for us (1930s) relative to other respected Saints and mystics. You could pray for Divine Mercy with the Divine Mercy prayer written by Sister Faustina Kowalkska.[viii]
There is a national shrine of Devine Mercy in Massachusetts carrying her message today. However you need not join the Marians of the Immaculate conception who are seeking to make Sister Faustina a doctor of the church. It is probably safer to stick with the words of Jesus Christ and as close to bible as one can for interpretation and discernment of God’s will. That being said it is difficult to ignore mystics and saints that have had special callings and lived lives that far exceed our imagination as sources of spiritual affirmation and growth.
[v] Matt: 5:7
[vi] Matthew 19:23-30 New King James Version (NKJV)