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By Dr. Jeff Mirus

Writing about the minor prophets on Tuesday, I mentioned this famous passage from Hosea: “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6). Now I am wondering why mercy is so conspicuously absent in the Church today.

This may astound my readers. But I am not referring to talk about mercy. That surrounds us almost constantly as Catholics today. But is mercy not most often advocated in a way that dulls our awareness of the gravity of offending God? Again and again, Catholic leaders and preachers who are far too influenced by the attitudes of our contemporary secular culture insist—or at least imply—that mercy is always about forgiveness and never about conversion, always about affirmation and never about instruction.

But this is not mercy. This is just a way to make our lives easier.

The Good News of Jesus Christ is not only that Christ has died for us so that our sins can be forgiven but also that we can be freed from sin and drawn into union with God by repenting and believing the Gospel (Mk 1:15). This is actually how the evangelist Mark summarizes Christ’s message. To understand what this means, we must ask ourselves about the context in which God is working. Put as simply as possible, this context is explained by St. Paul: “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:3-4).

Yet for all the talk about mercy today, was there ever an age in the Church’s history when both her leaders and her rank and file were so reluctant to speak God’s truth so that those who are far from Him can “repent and believe the Gospel”? Was there ever an age in which bishops, priests and religious were so prone to assume that every person is doing as well as he can, to argue that it is wrong to judge anyone’s behavior, to assert the value of all belief systems, and to insist that our sole task is to emphasize the isolated fact of God’s mercy—as if the fruits of that mercy may be reaped without belief in God, without trust in God, without learning God’s will, and without repentance and amendment of life?

Borrowing from another of the minor prophets, it was Micah who said that God requires each of us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8). But, returning to Hosea, have we not instead plowed iniquity, reaped injustice and eaten the fruit of lies (Hos 10:12-13)?

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