Encountering Jesus key to living mercy

In my column last month, I shared some thoughts on the meaning of mercy. I’d like to continue my reflections on mercy based on the pastoral priorities Archbishop Lucas has given us, expressed in the phrase "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."

I mentioned before that merciful love transforms those around us, humanizes them and reveals to them who they are in the eyes of the Heavenly Father. That kind of merciful love ought to come from our own encounter with Jesus. This means that "encountering Jesus" itself is one of the priorities, is central to living mercy. And it also touches on evangelization.

In Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation on the new evangelization, "Evangelii Gaudium," he includes a wonderful quote from Pope Benedict that he says gets at the heart of the Gospel: "Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."

I know I’ve quoted these words before in this column, but I never tire of repeating the truth that while ethics and humanitarianism are good, Christian, charitable, merciful love is impossible without the encounter with Jesus.

Let me use an analogy. As we shop for a car that will get us from place to place, we might consider various options: all-wheel vs. front wheel drive, leather vs. cloth interiors, cruise control, etc. Likewise, as we put together the spiritual vehicle that will get us to heaven, we might consider various options as well: a Franciscan vs. a Benedictine spirituality, devotion to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy vs. St. Michael, one spiritual author over another.

But while those are options, "encountering Jesus" is not. Meeting and forming a relationship with Jesus is the engine, the chassis and the wheels of the car. Without him, there is no vehicle, and what appears to be a spiritual life is just a collection of interesting, maybe even attractive, parts that get us nowhere.

On the other hand, one can encounter Jesus and still be ill-equipped in following him. It’s one thing to have the car; it’s another thing to know how to drive it. We have to be taught the fundamentals of driving that spiritual car. We need formation in the Christian life. Even in the earliest years of Christianity, becoming a Christian required some level of instruction and formation, and a life of prayer often requires some formation as well.

So, living as a follower of the one true Christ is something we must be taught and then equipped to do. This is why "equipping disciples" is necessary. But now that we have the car and know how to drive it, it is still another thing to keep the car running. This equipping through formation does not end. Just as a vehicle requires constant refueling and maintenance, we require constant formation.

And finally we require a church, unified in the constant effort to help get us to our final destination. We need the "one church" that can help us with that maintenance, navigate around the potholes, avoid other, dangerous drivers and point us to the paths that can get us to our heavenly homeland.

Encountering Jesus, Pope Francis tells us, gives us a decisive direction. That direction means an openness to formation and living mercy where the Lord is calling us to do so. May our local church grow in understanding how we can do that with each other in the coming months and years.


Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at

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