Your hurt is people’s broken brotherhood…Defeat our Babel with your Pentecost.” These verses, from a hymn by Fred Kaan, join our hurt to that of Jesus, and our deepest desire to the will of God.
God’s will is not a private matter, but a plan that covers all of humanity, indeed, all of creation—a plan for us to be united with one another in a kingdom of love. God’s will for me and for you is to dismantle the tower of division, which we, our communities and our world have constructed. To this purpose, God has sent his Holy Spirit to guide and fortify us.
Pope Francis has declared this to be a season of mercy. His intuition reminds me of what Saint Francis regarded as the pivotal moment in his conversion from earthly concerns to the will of God: “The Lord granted me, Brother Francis, to begin to do penance in this way: While I was in sin, it seemed very bitter to me to see lepers. And the Lord Himself led me among them and I had mercy upon them. And when I left them that which seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body; and afterward I lingered a little and left the world.”
Thomas Merton framed this well in New Seeds of Contemplation: “Everything that is demanded of me, in order that I may treat every other man effectively as a human being is willed for me by God…But I cannot treat other men as men unless I have compassion for them…I must learn to do this…when men who suffer belong to other groups, even groups that are regarded as hostile. If I do this, I obey God.”
In his first speech after being elected pontiff, Pope Francis called for “brotherhood” in the Catholic Church. Then, in a homily delivered soon after, he said, “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.” The two messages are closely related.
Mercy, more than love or even forgiveness, to which is bears much resemblance, is the key to unlocking the sometimes-mysterious and always-challenging truth and wisdom of the Gospel. Pentecost reminds us that mercy is the test of faith, the foundation of hope and the blooming of love. With Pentecost, another hard winter of isolation comes to an end.
Through the Apostles, disciples of Jesus Christ have through the ages been granted gifts that are necessary to live and love as God has ordained, not in isolation but in communion; not for the purpose of personal salvation but for the redemption of humanity. These gifts must be claimed and harnessed. They must serve the highest possible purpose: the death of division and the rising of unity, the fulfilment of God’s holy will.
God calls us to holiness, to wholeness, individually and collectively, which means that we are called to unity. The integrity of the human person is tied in so many ways to the integrity of relationships. We are hard-wired for brotherhood, and our capacity for brotherhood has a lot to do with the quality of our internal systems. These also have much to do with the quality of our relationship with God.
As the hymn’s lyricist prays, “O God of every nation…We know that we have never wholly striven, forgetting self, to love the other man…Unite us all for we are born as brother.” Brotherhood is indeed our highest calling. It is the unmistakable manifestation of our filial relationship to God the Father, our fraternal relationship to the Son and our shared identity in the Spirit of Love and Truth.