This week Pope Benedict XVI made a trip to Italy to celebrate the eighth centenary (that’s like an 800th anniversary) of the birth of St. Celestine V, the hermit Pope. He had some potent words for me.
He had a lot of good thoughts, actually, as usual. But one sentence really got stuck on me. He said: “Faithful to the heritage of St. Celestine V, always combine evangelical radicalism with mercy, so that all those who seek God may find Him.”
The first word that stood out was “mercy.”
When we evangelize, we often talk of “speaking the truth with Love.” But in our evangelical radicalism, it’s easy to make it a tough love. Indeed, love is often tough. But is it also merciful?
Mercy is like love that has already forgiven. And aside from God forgiving us as we forgive others, such mercy is the ultimate expression of our evangelism. And, no matter what we say, if the message of mercy is lost in translation, then we fail.
The second part that grabbed me was the final phrase, “so that all those who seek God may find Him.”
If a person is not seeking God, perhaps we aren’t giving them example enough to want to. Our immediate goal is not to convince non-seekers of God, but first to convince them to seek. I think most people today have given up on seeking. They think it isn’t possible to find God. Or that what truth they may find is completely relative anyway.
It doesn’t matter how much seed you continue to toss onto rocky ground or thorns, they are unlikely to yield fruit. We may not know the condition of the soil where we sow. But many times we do. And where we do, we are responsible also for accounting for those conditions. There isn’t a lot of merit in throwing seeds onto a hard path and then leaving them knowing full well the birds will snatch it up. And then dusting off our hands as if we’ve done our part.
We must work just as diligently to clear away the thorns and to till the soil as we do to scatter seed. And we must do it all with the same Mercy that we ourselves so desperately need.