11/10/2016 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Experiencing the Divine Mercy
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
The new evangelization is not about what we know, but whom we know.
What is evangelization? It is spreading the Gospel. "Gospel" means "Good News:" the good news that Jesus Christ is our Savior. He is everyone's Savior, my Savior, the Savior of the world.
Evangelization means that we spread -- not just tell about, but effectively communicate -- the good news that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. What's "new" about that? A lot, if it really hits home for the first time.
We may have heard this all our lives, but has Jesus been the center of our lives all these years, and is He changing us? Good News is not really valuable if it just passes in one ear and out the other, but never reaches our heart and soul, our whole being.
When speaking of the "new" evangelization, recent popes emphasize that we no longer think of evangelization as something just delegated to experts or professionals in ministry. It is new because it is to be done by all of Christ's disciples, by you and me.
We admire missionaries like the North American martyrs who came to these shores to spread the Good News to Native Americans. Obviously, the Gospel transformed their lives. From where did they get the courage to endure hardships? It came from the love they knew Jesus had for them.
Obviously, spreading the Gospel cannot be effective unless the evangelizer knows the person Jesus Christ is here and now, and also experiences and is convinced that Jesus is the personal Savior of the evangelizer. It is not enough to just talk about the "philosophy" of Jesus, "Christian values" or the good things Jesus did. There has to be a personal conviction that Jesus is the the only one who saves.
What does He save us from? Sin, death, desperation, confusion, fear of worthlessness, all the ills that afflict a fallen humanity that's created in the image and likeness of a good, holy and loving God, but tends to forget that.
Jesus saves us from everything that stains humanity because of actions that are not good, holy and loving -- which is another name for sin. When we say "yes" to Jesus as our Savior and are willing to freely make Him the center of our lives, He takes up His home in our hearts and drives out all that is not good, holy and loving.
We find ourselves changing and, by the help of the Holy Spirit, letting go of habits and attitudes, memories and grudges, that deface and distort our God-given beauty as reflections of our Creator.
How do we experience this transformation? The most concrete way is through Divine Mercy. Divine Mercy is Jesus Himself when we experience His love as the presence of unearned, gracious forgiveness. It is the knowledge that, by turning to Him (saying, "Lord Jesus, I trust in you"), we have the certainty that our sins will be forgiven and a foundation for a life of happiness without the burdens our sins and those of others have inflicted on us.
We are then truly free -- like someone released from jail after a sentence is commuted. That's how evangelization starts. There is no other way. What we have not first received, we cannot give. To become doors of Divine Mercy, we first need to know Divine Mercy.
Unless you and I are "convicted" of this message of Divine Mercy, we can say nice things about Jesus' teaching, His good works and promises, but we ourselves are not yet "evangelized." We might be on the right path, but we are not ready to tell the Good News, because it has not yet changed us.
Yet that is what Jesus wants for us: to be changed by the Good News and to go out and tell the world (Mt 28:16-20, often called "The Great Commission").
If this has not yet happened to you, don't be discouraged! I did not even grasp this until I was in my mid-30s. I had always thought that being a good Catholic meant following the rules: trying hard to live a good life.
I felt, even as a young priest, ordained at the age of 25, that I was being faithful to the teaching of Jesus and preaching what the Scriptures were saying. I worked hard in the parishes I served. I was trying to do the works of mercy. But I was not convinced that Jesus loved and died for me personally, and I was still clinging to certain attitudes and patterns of sin in my life that I was not yet willing to let go.
It was like I was bargaining with God: "If I do at least most things Your way, You will let me do some things my way, and we can just get along fine." But I was disrespecting Jesus by treating Him more as a pal or an ally, rather than the way a disciple should really treat his master.
That changed when I had a "kitchen table" revelation. In the midst of a frustrating period of my life, a friend told me that Jesus loved me -- loves us all -- and it hit home. Why had I been resisting that? Why was I making it so hard for Jesus to give me happiness?
I'd finally had an experience of the Divine Mercy, though I did not at first call it that. I had not yet even heard of the Divine Mercy. Did I have a lot to learn!
Pope Francis has described the Divine Mercy as "the beating heart of the Gospel." It is the heart of evangelization: to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus and the incredible, transforming power of His grace.
This should not be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is not be mocked as a "come to Jesus" emotional high. It is much more profound and life-changing than a warm, fuzzy feeling -- which it may not be like at all.
If it has not yet happened to you, there will be a first time, a moment when it begins to dawn on you. Those who are baptized as adults or who have experienced a conversion from one faith to the Christian faith or from one stage of their faith to a more committed stage, for example, may have experienced this.
St. Teresa of Kolkata never doubted the Divine Mercy in her life. However, as she worked with the poorest of the poor, she could feel their hardship and abandonment so powerfully that it left her in a long, dark period of dryness with little consolation. She came to realize that she was receiving from Jesus the gift of knowing His intense thirst for the hearts and souls of sinners.
This is what draws out the Divine Mercy: Jesus loves you and me so much that He has an unquenchable thirst to reach us. He wants us to know His loving forgiveness, His desire to soothe and comfort us -- His need, if you will, to be our Savior and rescue us from all that separates us from God. Why resist such incredible love by turning away to anything less?
Please join me Nov. 13 at 5 p.m. (remember to set your clock back an hour the night before!) in our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Albany. If you have been doing the retreat "33 Days to Merciful Love" by Rev. Michael Gaitley, MIC, you can join me in making or renewing your personal consecration to the Divine Mercy. But if you have not, don't worry. During the Mass, I will also consecrate the entire Diocese of Albany to the Divine Mercy.