Mercy Came Tenderly

Welcome, Dear Reader, and thank you for graciously dropping by this page to sample my latest blogpost. The subject is not recovery from addiction. This happened when I was lost, found, then began to move forward. Come back with me to 1976. I remember hearing an unforgettable Voice, which because I took seriously transformed my then drab life into one of hope and inspiration. Many mistakes, bafflements and upturnings of fate were to follow. But this was “the” turning point.

The event was a door behind which lay answers to my questions about existence, destiny and the meaning of life.

I was twenty-four, a sophomore in college. Facing being drafted during the Viet Nam War, a war my family opposed, was really the least of my problems. I had been ruefully contemplating my young life the entire evening. Edgar Allen Poe could not have been bleaker or more morose.

My life stared back at me, smirking and winking. It was 2:00 am. Lying on my back on the sofa, I looked up at a portrait of Jesus, which I had just given my mother on her birthday. She had loved it on sight and quickly found a spot for it.

My parents were in bed and there was I, quite alone, ruminating about my problems with no idea how to fix them. It had been a rough day, too.

Earlier that day I was returning from my appointment at the employment office, where I had just applied for unemployment benefits. On the way home I decided to stop by a dealership and test drive a motorcycle.  Only minutes after I rode it off the lot it was out of gas.  I pushed it back to the dealer in the California summer heat. It must have been very near eighty degrees.  I finally got the bike back to the lot and then took the bus home.

My mind kept running into roadblocks, yet I didn’t want to go to bed yet. What happened next was unusual because at that time I wasn’t really praying much. I heard inside of me a male voice, strong and compassionate.

I heard him say, “I want to help you.” My eyes now fixed intently on his image. Who’s talking to me? Should I answer?

“Why?” I asked. “Why do you want to help me?” I realize now that Jesus Christ would surely know the facts about me, that I had no one in my life, was depressed, lonely and unemployed.

He repeated, “I want to help you.” I just didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing and waited. Most certainly, I did not feel alone, not anymore.

If you were in my place what would you think? Jesus was a human being, very human indeed. If he existed in some other dimension he very likely would communicate, selectively, of course, with souls of his choosing and for different reasons. His reason here was clear. I was in trouble and he wanted to help. So this voice could be his. It might not be, but, it might be.

He wept and still weeps for others, as I understand it. He was unassuming. He was humble. He listened to others and grieved with them. He sighed with them and cried with them. I’m writing this on Easter Sunday, the day they say he rose from the dead. But let’s remember that Jesus is also a human being. If he were not, he really couldn’t relate to us or our troubles. I think Jesus becoming human had to be a key part of the plan—a radically unique part of the plan!

Yes, I believe Jesus befriended me that evening when I was twenty-four. I know it changed my life. I started going to church with my Mom. I went to all kinds of different churches. I met some very nice people, yes, but didn’t grasp the fundamental reasons for corporate worship, not for some time. One reason God calls persons to worship is to experience him, to express their love and awe, and give him glory. Perhaps our purpose is to do exactly that. On a more private, personal level worship is really a private encounter, but with others around who are having the same kind of personal and private experience with God. It’s about you and God.

It was an awkward first meeting, even though I had attended a religious grammar school and high school. Even so, I had never had a personal encounter with Christ. I know I certainly needed one, but had not even known it was possible.

So reader, let me ask you a question: how was your concept of God formed? Is that distinct from your concept of church, or of religion in general? Is God’s existence independent of churches and religion, or must they be connected? Churches might scare you, a little or a lot, or they may make you angry. You may not trust anybody who attends a church or is religious. What of religious leaders? Chances are at least even that you mistrust or dislike all of them. And if so, does that conceptualization keep you away from approaching the possibility of God’s existence?

Put aside your conceptualization for a moment and consider that Jesus works through people but those people aren’t Jesus. If you read the New Testament for yourself you will discover or have already discovered that he sought to connect with human beings rather passionately, at great expense to his well being, considering what ended his life. That’s a given whether or not you think the Resurrection happened. He said, “If you don’t believe me, believe the miracles,” which speaks to his confidence that they were credible supernatural events.

Why the miracles, anyway? Why not just succinct lectures attempting to establish his role in prophetic history? Probably because lectures, scholarship and fancy arguments would’ve left out a big aspect of his message, which is “God is love,” and more to the personal point, “God loves you.” He performed the miracles very aware he had very little time, three years, to attract the souls he purposed to call to him. So very many of us just don’t know who to believe today. Fortunately, Jesus knows how to speak to the human heart.

Why do I trust him? Because he allowed me to choose. He stepped back after that experience in 1976 and let me think about it. I’m so glad he respected my freedom of choice! Did I eventually choose to go his way? No, I really think he chose me. But I still had the option to turn my back on him. So do we all. I have not regretted answering the call. I like where he’s taking me! My relationship with him has always been safe and I trust him.

The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not a mere symbol, but a Church-approved revelation to St. Margaret Mary in 1673 in Paral-le-Monial, France. It is one of those supernatural facts, existing at the core of who Jesus is. His heart is on fire with love for the human race and he lamented that so few respond, seem to care, and even go beyond that neglect of returning his love. Many scorn him, revile him, and perform outrages upon his being he rests in the Holy Eucharist until the end of time.

Will you entertain, for the sake of examining every possibility, however grandiose, that Jesus may be whom he said he was: an infinite, holy being who came in human form to teach us; and he, not being able to conceal his true identity, and perhaps commissioned to reveal it purposefully, designed creation and the wonders of the universe; he is responsible for creating, among other wonders, the complexities of quantum physics, which are not yet within the reach of our physics to totally explain. The Shroud of Turin is another example of this.

Apart from Jesus Christ, we do not know what is our life, nor our death, nor God, nor ourselves,” wrote French mathematician and unorthodox theologian, Blaise Pascal. It’s not surprising that Pascal’s mathematical genius was in accord with his theological genius. Intuition and logic are not enemies unless we set them to oppose each other.

So what if Jesus, actually not “just human,” really is divine and alive today, being the immortal source of life itself? What if he, not a Big Bang (translated, a large noise intruding the serene nothingness of space) set the cosmos into motion? Then what kind of relationship with us, with you, with me, do you think Jesus had in mind?

Since 1976, Jesus did speak to me again, I think. It wasn’t spectacular or very unusual, because he speaks to his followers all the time: “My sheep know my voice.” I was driving home from work late at night and had a craving for sacred music. I pulled off the road and searched my device and lighted on a choral piece about Christ’s Passion, titled simply, “Her Triumph,” the her being Mary. She triumphs by courageously rising above the gloom to in faith believing he will rise as he said:

While it appears the faith is gone,

Alone in you (Mary) the faith lives on.

I will not dwell in faithless gloom

Nor hasten to an empty tomb.

He came all glorious to you.

His wounded hands outstretched anew.

And I believe, with my whole heart I believe,

His body will rise and receive the Victory!

I heard his voice, even more gentle than before, say, “Don’t forget me.” I returned home full of wonder as to what he had meant. How could I forget him? I realized he meant his suffering—don’t forget my suffering! This second quote of Pascal’s informed me why our remembering his Passion is so important to him.

“Jesus will be in agony, even until the end of the world. We must not sleep the while.”

No, we must not sleep, that is, be subdued by one of any of several hundred distractions we encounter daily in this world of endlessly repeated images worshiping our stunning uniqueness. There is a cost of sleeping through our lives. If the world, flesh and devil lull us into believing life is a fanciful dalliance which we can take selfishly for granted, rather than a fleeting opportunity to be redeemed, redemption will pass us by, forever. We are all temporal, all facing eternity with either dread or hope. If we are all “children of wrath,” then there is a solid, loving reason Jesus came down from heaven, died, rose and will return. But will he find faith on the earth when he returns?

A premise of family therapy is that any healthy relationship has to be based on love and respect. Nobody usually disagrees with that. But obedience is a different story. In this era people don’t like the requirement of obedience because we do not trust authority anymore, and it threatens to cancel personal freedom. However, if you’re on a sinking ship and the captain makes an announcement to abandon ship, if the ship is really and truly sinking you don’t plant your feet on the deck and refuse to budge. You obey the order because you it’s there to protect you and save your life.

Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” In that statement a choice is implied and personal freedom is taken into account by Jesus. Love and obedience are both part of what is chosen. Obedience clearly is not compelled by Jesus, but from disciples it is expected, naturally. It’s reasonable. Forgetting about bland reason, love, once again, claims the highest dignity, before reason, before the hasty, rash, pompous assuming “Enlightenment,” so-called during the equally pompous 18th century in Europe.

So to gain our salvation he had to give up something precious, indeed his very life. That sacrifice was mysteriously required, and Christ, full of love and obedience to His Father, obeyed despite the cost. Yes, that form of old nobility probably seems silly to a 21st century mentality. Why, we ask, would God subject Himself to our base cruelties? It is an honoring of a justice beyond our sensibilities or capacity to understand or appreciate, far from being absurd as we might assume, wrongly though.

Is this love “our kind” of love or another kind of love? Our kind of love is inconstant, perishable, like our nature. However, Christ is not subject to the limitations of our nature. He can love us even when we hate him! I submit that alone as something worthy of our worship, but only if we have a taste for it. Worship requires humility. Mankind has always preferred pride, as whole. But if we walk with him, closely, he will teach us that, too, if we are willing.

We wonder why he bothers with us, so stunted and remarkably inferior to him. Perhaps he sees our potential. When he talked to my heart all those years ago, he knew I was not then interested in ever returning his love—not then. Yet he put his love on the line. That takes guts in anybody’s universe.

Today I imperfectly return His Love. I do when I can let go of myself. Jesus pleads with us to let Him lead us out of our smallness into his humble greatness. My friend Jesus forever is putting himself out there. His Love is incredibly passionate toward us. Let’s not turn our back on him, because he might be the closest and most loyal Friend of Humanity that I know, who doesn’t live in a graphic novel or a fake universe. He created the universe we live in, all the birds and the trees, the oceans and the hills, and with them, he created us. To Him I am ever addicted to mercy.


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