If someone were to ask me, what is the Divine Mercy all about, I would start by saying it is all about evangelization — or, as I like to call, “gospel-ing.” It’s about spreading the Good News effectively.

Sometimes this kind of “gospel-ing” is called “the New Evangelization,” but I think a better name for “the New Evangelization” might be the original evangelization, for this is how the apostles and early Christians did it.

Real evangelization is not about WHAT we know but WHOM we know. So what is evangelization? It is, simply said, the spreading of the Gospel. Gospel means “Good News.” What is this Good News? It is that Jesus Christ is our Savior — everyone’s Savior and my Savior, the Savior of the world.

So 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” or “original” about that? Well, a lot actually, especially 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 throughout all these years and is He changing us? Good News is not really very valuable if it just passes through our heads — 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. It is “new” because it is to be done by all of Christ’s disciples, by you and by me. We admire missionaries like the North American Martyrs who came to these shores to spread the Good News to the Native Americans. Obviously, the Gospel transformed their lives. But from where did they get the courage to endure such hardships? It came from the love they knew Jesus had for them personally.

Obviously, spreading of the Gospel cannot be effective unless the evangelizer knows personally both the Person Jesus Christ is — here and now — but 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 or “Christian values” or the good things Jesus did and does. There has to be a personal conviction that Jesus is the One — the ONLY one — who saves. 

Saves from what? Sin, death, desperation, confusion, fear of worthlessness, all of the ills that afflict a fallen humanity which is 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 — freely — to 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. 

But how do we experience this transformation? The most concrete way that this can be said 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 and experience that, simply by turning to Him (“Lord Jesus, I trust in you”), we have the certainty that our sins will be forgiven and of 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 who has just been 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 personally know and are “convicted” of this message of Divine Mercy, we can say many nice things about Jesus, His teaching, His good works and promises, but we ourselves are not yet “evangelized.” We might be on the right path, well along the way, but we are not yet 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 whole world (Matthew 28:16-20, often called “The Great Commission.”) 

Now if this has not yet happened to you, don’t be discouraged! I myself did not even begin to grasp this until I was in my mid-30s. I always had thought that being a good Catholic meant following the rules — trying really 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 at all the programs the parishes I served in promoted. 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 of. It was like I was bargaining with God that 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 in my life rather than how a disciple should really treat his master.  

All that changed when I had what I would call a “kitchen table” revelation when, in the midst of a frustrating period of my life, a good friend told me that Jesus loved me — loves us all — and it really hit home. Why had I been resisting that? Why was I making it so hard for Jesus to give me happiness? I 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 very heart of Evangelization itself — to know the love and forgiveness of Jesus and the incredible, transforming power of His grace. This is not — or should not be — just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is not to be mocked as a “Come to Jesus” kind of emotional high. It is much more profound and life-changing than just a warm fuzzy feeling, which it may not be like at all. Sure, if it has not yet happened to you, there will be a first time for it — or 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 one, for example. 

Mother Teresa never doubted the Divine Mercy in her life. However, as she became more involved in her work 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 consolations. 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 to rescue us from all that separates us from God. Why resist such incredible love by turning away to anything less?

This column was originally published in The Evangelist on May 2, 2019.