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Sunday, April 7, 2013

Divine mercy: Forgiving those who doubt

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Today, Divine Mercy Sunday, we should consider the place of mercy in environmental science and advocacy.  

Many of us who accept, for instance, that the climate is changing—that science overwhelmingly shows that this is the case and that man’s activity is a substantial cause—have been questioned, sometimes rather rashly, by climate-change critics. Our characters and loyalties are called into question and our intelligence lampooned. I’ve experienced something like this in the comments on this blog and in other publications—such as an essay about ecology in Catholic World Report and one about energy.

It’s also been my experience that when scientists, planners, and policy makers discuss climate change (and other eco-issues), they often consider how to change the minds of skeptics but they don’t speak of how to love them.

As Catholics know, today’s feast was decreed by Pope John Paul II in May 2000 after decades of growing devotion to the visions, writings, and images of the Polish nun (and now saint) Faustina Kowalska. Her visions were of Christ’s desire for all souls to know His mercy. Faustina wrote that Christ communicated to her that 
My mercy is so great that no mind, be it of man or of angel, will be able to fathom it throughout all eternity. Everything that exists has come forth from the very depths of My most tender mercy. Every soul in its relation to Me will I contemplate My love and mercy throughout eternity.
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Faustina had an uphill climb to convince others of this personal revelation. But her visions could not be contained nor her sincerity questioned. And the Lord’s mercy could not be ignored. Today, divine mercy is celebrated with a unique feast that closes the great Octave of Easter. 

Of course, the mercy of God is at the core of apostolic revelation. From Genesis chapter three (when God relents on his warning that “you will surely die” for touching the fruit in the center of the garden), throughout the history of the Nation of Israel, to the very incarnation and crucifixion of Christ, to the coming of the Spirit, and to the forgiving of sins in the life of the Church, God’s underserved mercy has showered onto us sinners—we who so desperately need it.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we are asked to seek God's mercy by connecting this petition to our own forgiveness of others.
 ... and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
There is, of course, a place for all this among you and I who—in this particularly crucial and dangerous time—champion a better relation with the natural order of things. In large part because of our age of hyper-technology, the gluttony of man—our desires, appetites and, as we hear at Mass, “disordered affections”—now threatens global ecosystems with ruin. The next few decades will be times of important choices if we hope to leave for future generations a planet that looks and works pretty much like the one humanity has known from the beginning.

Thus the consequences of not changing our ways are frightening and the changes required to avert them are daunting. Confounding matters is that changing our ways for the good of the planet’s life-offering ecosystems has been an issue voiced at length (for various reasons) by the political left. This has turned a scientific discussion into an ideological one.

And so out of fear of what seems so difficult and out of dislike for political ideologies that—besides championing the environment—champion issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, some of our brothers and sisters push back when they hear the prophetic warnings of ecologists. Such doubters are, like all humans at times, a bit like Thomas, who doubted the words of his friends when they spoke of the return of the Lord of life. But our Lord loved Thomas nonetheless—and He provided all the empirical evidence that Thomas required.

And therein lies the lesson for us: to love and teach those who doubt.

I know firsthand that the words and taunting of those who doubt issues like anthropogenic climate change can rouse a desire to strike back—to demean those who demean us and diminish those who diminish objective observational data. Some of us may even gloat (oddly enough) when current events prove our points.

But we cannot succumb to such temptations.

Catholic ecologists should be well aware that our ancient enemy looks for any means to create division and discord—especially when the stakes are high. Seeking unity must be one of our goals and the chief means to achieve this is love.

It is not enough to present people with graphs and photos of flooded neighborhoods if we do not love. Indeed, we cannot champion life if we refuse to first love.

As St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians
if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing  [...] 
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
 Love never fails.
If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:2-13)
One might ask, then, is love the greatest of our motivations? I don't know that it is for me. This requires serious thought, because we may hasten ecological destruction if we don't present truth with certainty and love—if we do not forgive when at first we are doubted, or worse. As Christ has taught us (and Benedict XVI reminded us), truth and love must never be isolated.

And so, we champions of sound ecologies must commit this Sunday and every day to offer the mercy that we ourselves so desperately need. Let us bring with us the gospel of forgiveness as we prophesize about the harm in violating God’s laws. Let us resist despair, anger, and gloating. For in the end, we will build up the good of our neighbors and of all creation—and help save souls, including our own—if we truly love and forgive those who trespass against us.

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