Not too long ago I went on retreat. On my flight home I sat beside a young couple. Almost immediately the young man sitting beside me struck up a conversation. I was dressed casually so he did not immediately know my identity. He started with some typical observations on politics and life in general.
It wasn’t long before John identified himself as a “born again” Christian, yet, he openly admitted that he was not living the Christian life. I could see he had faith, but had been poorly formed. Some of his statements revealed that his “faith” had been formed by both popular thought and his reading of philosophy. As well, he had been influenced by others who called themselves as Christian, but whom he openly identified as racist, hateful and narrow-minded. Very quickly I could sense his humility and openness. He was searching for truth.
He made a number of statements about faith – one in particular – he shared with me, was that salvation was obtained by simply by making a declaration of faith. For him he had been instructed this was sufficient for salvation. I gently pointed out several passages from Scripture that indicated that salvation was more than just making a declaration of faith, but rather, salvation was obtained by the way we live. I mentioned St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25 where Jesus clearly speaking about the final judgment says; “I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink…” I shared with John that the Bible tells us that, yes, we must publicly declare our faith in Christ, but that it must be lived out – followed through with works of charity and concern for our neighbor. Several times during our conversation he said to me: “Wow, that’s really good, where is that in the Bible?” And I would share the chapter and verse with him. I shared with John that he should really think about reading the Scriptures regularly so that he could continue to grow in his faith and not be misled by false teaching.
At another point he brought up the Catholic Church – again it was obvious his ideas about the church had been poorly formed by the media and some anti-Catholic small-mindedness. Finally I shared with him with a smile: “ John be careful, I’m a Catholic priest.” He was really surprised but humbled and grateful. Here was someone who had been falsely led to believe that Catholics were ignorant of Scripture and led by superstition. He asked me more about the Church.
The captain finally announced we were landing. Our conversation had lasted about two hours. As we prepared for landing, John thanked me and said, “I’d like to visit your church someday.” I told him that he would always be welcome at my parish. It was easy to see that John was thirsting for more. I made a commitment that day to pray specifically for John.
I share this with you on Mercy Sunday because John reminds me that so many are searching for answers, so many are looking for God’s mercy.
“Jesus Christ is divine mercy in person”
You and I are messengers of mercy and love – we can share that with anyone. My encounter with John reminded me that we too should be steeped in the Word of God and in prayer. We don’t need a theologian’s education to share the love of God, just a desire for souls and a sensitive and loving heart.
“How many people in our time are in search of God, in search
of Jesus and of his Church, in search of divine mercy, and are
waiting for a sign that will touch their minds and their hearts!”
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict encourages us to be that sign. “May this be your commitment, to be a sing of mercy, first of all in your families and then in every neighborhood milieu.” This Mercy Sunday is a good day to start.