The Pope’s prayer intention for July 2017 was: That our brothers and sisters who have strayed from the faith, through our prayer and witness to the Gospel, may rediscover the merciful closeness of the Lord and the beauty of the Christian life.
Roman persecutions were the source of Lapsi, apostates in the early Christian Church, who renounced their faith under torture. Persecutions increased as missionaries followed explorers to the corners of the earth. Shūsaku Endō’s novel, Silence, with Martin Scorsese’s film adaptation, have left me wondering which is the better way to respond to persecution: to hold fast or to give up?
In the prayer intention, Pope Francis speaks of those who have strayed from the faith, simply wandered away from traditional religious practices. I would want to widen the definition to include those who have left other religious traditions. I would exclude those who actively look for a more authentic way to live, for example Siddhartha Gautam. That leaves people who have lost a sense of closeness to God in their traditional religious practices. They are looking for more meaningful ways to live, and perhaps experience God’s presence, but don’t seem to know where to look!
Pope Francis challenges us to pray and give witness to the Gospel, so that we enjoy the beauty of Christian life by sharing God’s mercy. Are we the witnesses Pope Francis asks us to be? How merciful are we? How happy are we in living Christ’s way of life?
Am I convinced that being merciful really brings me happiness? Forgiveness after a serious hurt is difficult and might take some time, but I have learned that until I truly forgive, I’ll not be happy. Sooner or later I give into the God’s challenge and then can be happy, and hopefully a little more ready to meet the next challenge to my happiness. Perhaps my honest efforts will show others that there is a way forward, to more and more accept God’s mercy by being merciful.
There is always the danger of personal put-downs: “Lord, I’m not worthy!” Of course I’m not, but from the giver’s viewpoint, the receiver of a gift is worthy to have it, even if the receiver does not think so! If God offers me mercy, there is nothing stopping me from receiving that mercy except my own stubborn attitudes!
Ordinary gifts are a good example. People often give me things I neither need nor want, I take the gift to make the giver happy. The unwanted gift is now mine and I can pass it on to someone who will want it, making us all happy. Therefor I take all the mercy I can get and enjoy passing it on.
The third obstacle to mercy-sharing is my laziness to get engaged. Perhaps I’m too wrapped up in myself to notice another’s needs, or too shy or hesitant to respond to another’s call for mercy. The daily examen prayer helps me to notice the missed chance to share God’s mercy. I was in the right place at the right time, but did not respond.
So I continue to watch out for my lack of conviction, my false unworthiness, and my reluctance to get engaged, as I look for better ways to rediscover the merciful closeness of the Lord and the beauty of the Christian life.1
Do I expect others to race back to Sunday Mass and religious devotions? No! I do hope that through my prayer and witness to the Gospel, along with me, others will live the beauty of the Christian life a little more.
I return to the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk.15), and Jesus’ advice to the apostles (John 15: 11-14). I continue to reflect on the calls of the crows and the cicada in Endo’s novel. God is NOT silent and I pray that I can hear God correctly and respond with mercy.
“’We do works of mercy for others,’ Pope Francis said, ‘because we know that we have been shown mercy by Our Lord first. We think about our mistakes, our sins, and how the Lord has forgiven us, so we do the same with our brothers and sisters. Works of mercy,’ the Pope concluded, ‘keep us away from egoistic behavior and help us imitate Jesus more closely.’” 2
- c.f. Mitch Todd, “3 Obstacles for lapsed Christians ready to come home,” Church Central,
- Vatican Radio Asia Newsletter, Vol. 5, no. 12, June 08, 2017, p.15