God’s grace will often surprise us. It turns up in unlikely places, such as a shopping center in Colombia where, Oct. 18-19, 120 priests showed up to hear confessions, a visible sign of God’s grace for the Year of Mercy. It turns up amid otherwise grim news, such as the reports of church bells ringing out Oct. 22 in the liberated Iraqi town of Bartella, one of the oldest Christian communities on Earth, following a two-year occupation by ISIS.
Pope Francis captured the surprising nature of grace well in his 2014 Holy Week general audience, in which he said that the Resurrection “is not the happy ending to a nice story,” but rather “it is God the Father’s intervention there where human hope is shattered.”
Whether or not the hope of Americans is truly shattered, the 2016 presidential campaign has certainly left many people with bruised feelings, diminished expectations and a general weary cynicism in its wake. The national display of the past 15 months has taken its toll, leaving something of an acrid stain on our national fabric.
As two pieces (Russell Shaw on Page 8 and Kathryn Jean Lopez on Page 22) in this week’s issue of OSV Newsweekly attest, it’s never too early to move past vitriolic division and aspire toward healing and reconciliation. Lopez draws hope from the witness of contemporary Christians facing heavy persecution in the Middle East. Shaw looks back to another period of national division — the immediate wake of the Civil War — to illustrate how national strife presents the opportunity for individuals, society and players such as the Church to put forward the best a people has to offer.
This may seem daunting, but people of faith must always find hope in God’s grace at work. In his 2007 encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI explored the role of grace in the world. “Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away,” Pope Benedict wrote (No. 44). He went on to say that “the way we live our lives is not immaterial, but our defilement does not stain us forever if we have at least continued to reach out towards Christ, towards truth and towards love” (No. 47).
Bishop Daniel E. Flores of Brownsville, Texas, noted in an interview with OSV earlier this year that it’s in the concrete moments of real encounter between individuals where we find God at work. “Grace always operates in the particular,” he said. “Grace is a moving reality; it’s not a static one.”
This speaks to an incredible power and responsibility in the life of each person. It’s the action side of what Pope St. John Paul II called the universal call to holiness. It suggests movement — persistent, even urgent movement. While the Year of Mercy may be near its end, Pope Francis’ call for a “revolution of tenderness” isn’t any less pressing, especially for a nation in dire need of a tonal shift in its public discourse and a new lens for its people to view one another.
Even as Christians, the toxicity of our times has left us willing to believe the worst of the other, to think the other’s views couldn’t possibly originate from anywhere but hatred, ignorance or some nefarious place.
This makes it all the more urgent to reconstitute ourselves from a place of mercy, charity and hope. With God’s help, we can witness to reconciliation and peace. We can let God’s grace surprise us, and we might even surprise ourselves.
Editorial Board: Scot Landry, chief mission officer; Greg Willits, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor-in-chief; Don Clemmer, managing editor