Tax collectors and sinners are entering the kingdom of God before you
It is precisely because sin exists in the world, which “God so loves . . . that he gave his only Son, that God who ‘is love’ cannot reveal himself otherwise than as mercy. This corresponds not only to the most profound truth of that love which God is, but also to the whole interior truth of man and of the world which is man’s temporary homeland.
Mercy in itself, as a perfection of the infinite God, is also infinite. Also infinite therefore and inexhaustible is the Father’s readiness to receive the prodigal children who return to his home. Infinite are the readiness and power of forgiveness which flow continually from the marvelous value of the sacrifice of the Son. No human sin can prevail over this power or even limit it. On the part of man only a lack of good will can limit it, a lack of readiness to be converted and to repent, in other words persistence in obstinacy, opposing grace and truth, especially in the face of the witness of the cross and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, the church professes and proclaims conversion. Conversion to God always consists in discovering his mercy, that is, in discovering that love which is patient and kind as only the Creator and Father can be; the love to which the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” is faithful to the uttermost consequences in the history of his covenant with man: even to the cross and to the death and resurrection of the Son. Conversion to God is always the fruit of the “rediscovery” of this Father, who is rich in mercy.
Authentic knowledge of the God of mercy, the God of tender love, is a constant and inexhaustible source of conversion, not only as a momentary interior act but also as a permanent attitude, as a state of mind. Those who come to know God in this way, who “see” him in this way, can live only in a state of being continually converted to him. They live, therefore, in statu conversionis; and it is this state of conversion which marks out the most profound element of the pilgrimage of every man and woman on earth in statu viatoris. ...
...The church proclaims the truth of God’s mercy revealed in the crucified and risen Christ, and she professes it in various ways. Furthermore, she seeks to practice mercy toward people through people, and she sees in this an indispensable condition for solicitude for a better and “more human” world, today and tomorrow.
However, at no time and in no historical period-especially at a moment as critical as our own-can the church forget the prayer that is a cry for the mercy of God amid the many forms of evil which weigh upon humanity and threaten it. Precisely this is the fundamental right and duty of the church in Christ Jesus, her right and duty toward God and toward humanity. The more the human conscience succumbs to secularization, loses its sense of the very meaning of the word “mercy,” moves away from God and distances itself from the mystery of mercy, the more the church has the right and the duty to appeal to the God of mercy, with loud cries.
...Let us offer up our petitions, directed by the faith, by the hope and by the charity which Christ has planted in our hearts. This attitude is likewise love of God, whom modern man has sometimes separated far from himself, made extraneous to himself, proclaiming in various ways that God is “superfluous.” This is, therefore, love of God, the insulting rejection of whom by modern man we feel profoundly, and we are ready to cry out with Christ on the cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.”
At the same time it is love of people, of all men and women without any exception or division: without difference of race, culture, language or world outlook, without distinction between friends and enemies. This is love for people—it desires every true good for each individual and for every human community, every family, every nation, every social group, for young people, adults, parents, the elderly—a love for everyone without exception. This is love, or rather an anxious solicitude to ensure for each individual every true good and to remove and drive away every sort of evil….
...In the name of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, in the spirit of his messianic mission, enduring in the history of humanity, we raise our voices and pray that the love which is in the Father may once again be revealed at this stage of history, and that, through the work of the Son and Holy Spirit, it may be shown to be present in our modern world and to be more powerful than evil: more powerful than sin and death. We pray for this through the intercession of her who does not cease to proclaim “mercy . . . from generation to generation,” and also through the intercession of those for whom there have been completely fulfilled the words of the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”
In continuing the great task of implementing the Second Vatican Council, in which we can rightly see a new phase of the self-realization of the church—in keeping with the epoch in which it has been our destiny to live—the church herself must be constantly guided by the full consciousness that in this work it is not permissible for her, for any reason, to withdraw into herself. The reason for her existence is, in fact, to reveal God, that Father who allows us to “see” him in Christ. No matter how strong the resistance of human history may be, no matter how marked the diversity of contemporary civilization, no matter how great the denial of God in the human world, so much the greater must be the Church’s closeness to that mystery which, hidden for centuries in God, was then truly shared with man, in time, through Jesus Christ.
Excerpted from John Paul II’s DIVES IN MISERICORDIA (On the Mercy of God) to the Bishops, Priests, and Faithful of the entire Catholic Church concerning the Divine Mercy, 30 November 1980.