Knowing God and Neighbor through Mercy

One of the themes of my writings over the years is that much of what passes for writing and work for justice evolves more into “identity maintenance”–“it’s really about us”–than it reflects actual mercy that benefits one’s neighbor–“it’s really about our neighbor.”

This approach of “mercy over identity” poses a number of ethical and intellectual challenges when one really tries to follow it. The personalist focus on the neighbor who is to receive an act of mercy, and upon all persons who receive the mercy of God, must avoid the trap of consequentialism and utilitarianism, which tends to measure each act in terms of the economic or “hedonic” good it may bring another in some measurable material or emotional sense.

As Albert Einstein is reputed to have said, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

I tried a new approach to reflecting on the meaning of mercy on 2/15/12, which Catholics call Divine Mercy Sunday. I began to re-read Blessed John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia, or Rich in Mercy, and to stop and read the Scriptural text behind each footnote.

One the bus or the “L” or during a quiet moment at home over the past week, this experience has led me to something of a profound, self-directed retreat on the meaning of the existence of God and what God’s mercy asks of me. During this time, I also came in a sense to inhabit or connect with the mind and spirit of John Paul II by praying the prayers that he must have prayed while writing this great encyclical.

While many recent controversies about God focus on science and intellectual proofs or disproofs of God’s existence, the very existence of mercy despite all the cruelty and injustice of this world points to God’s love and to God’s existence. In fact, mercy is one of the primary ways that God is revealed to us.

How do we know God? Dives in Misericordia begins with a meditation on John 14:8-18

Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works hemselves. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything of me in my name, I will do it. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:8-18)

In the end, while we can come to the fact of God’s existence through reason, we can come to the very knowledge of God through Jesus. And we can come to know Jesus through His mercy–the mercy he calls us to live out.

I highly recommend that you spend a lot of time with Dives in Misericordia, and the texts of its citations. This experience is taking me to something wonderful that I cannot describe. Each act of mercy I attempt has taken on new meaning, and has called and challenged me to act more mercifully in every possible way that I can.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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2 Responses to “Knowing God and Neighbor through Mercy”

  1. […] Please see my earlier post on Knowing God and Neighbor Through Mercy. […]

  2. […] wrote earlier about this profoundly revolutionary document, which encapsulates Blessed John Paul II’s […]

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