Our heart is wide: Christians distinguished by Christmas; Christmas distinguished by mercy.

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Dec 22, 2015

The Devil is very clever. He stirs up just enough misguided Christians to acts of violence to make it easy for the world to condemn all religions as hothouses of terrorism—and all deep religious commitment as “fundamentalism”. A striking example is found in the recent violence in San Bernardino and Colorado Springs.

An Islamic couple plotted and carried out a successful terrorist attack at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center on December 2nd, killing fourteen people and injuring 22. There have been thousands of such Islamic acts of terrorism. Yet how incredibly convenient it was for Satan’s purposes that just a few days earlier in Colorado Springs, a lone shooter entered a Planned Parenthood clinic and opened fire, ultimately killing three and injuring nine. There have been astonishingly few such incidents.

But the shooter described himself as a warrior for the babies. He has a long history of what Christians themselves regard as an unbalanced adherence to Christianity, with little understanding of its teachings. And so the juxtaposition of the two incidents made it easy for secular news outlets to continue to develop the myth that all religions lead to violence, and that Christian “fundamentalists” are every bit as inevitable and dangerous as Islamic “fundamentalists.”

Show me, if you will, the refugee camps for abortion advocates! In the process of constructing the dominant secularist narrative which governs perceptions in much of the West, many realities are either ignored or twisted to make Christianity appear to be a threat. For example, Christians nearly always go to considerable lengths to stop violence and condemn those in their ranks who engage in it. On the Islamic side, of course, this seldom happens. And even on the purely secular side, the tide of denunciation, condemnation and punishment of “those not like me” (such as those who choose not to support homosexuality and gay marriage) is seldom thwarted by other secularists.

The Vital Difference

Christianity stands in marked contrast with all other world views in its willingness to accept suffering and forgive enemies. These are core requirements of authentic love as exemplified by Jesus Christ. Our Lord had no use for the worldly conquests which characterize Islamism, secularism, and so many other movements! In fact, one can survey the news in any given week and find multiple examples of characteristic Christian self-abasement in the exercise of forgiveness and mercy.

Just two weeks ago, for example, Pope Francis inaugurated a Jubilee of Mercy. As he explained:

The Jubilee is a favorable time for all of us, because by contemplating Divine Mercy, which overcomes all human limitations and shines in the darkness of sin, we are able to become more certain and effective witnesses…. This Jubilee, in other words, is a privileged moment for the Church to learn to choose only “what pleases God most”. What is it that “pleases God most”? Forgiving his children, having mercy on them, so that they may in turn forgive their brothers and sisters, shining as a flame of God’s mercy in the world.

This week, in the same spirit, the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Erbil insisted that each parish in his Iraqi diocese should have a holy door opened to inaugurate the year of mercy. Half of the Christian refugees from the Islamic State are now in Erbil. Archbishop Bashar Warda said this was an opportunity “to hear God’s word inviting us to rejoice in his mercy.”

About the same time, Bishop Joseph Arshad of Faisalabad, in Pakistan, stressed that the Jubilee is “a great sign of love and hope”. Bishop Arshad said, “In the last year there have been many attacks on the Christian minority, so it is crucial to promote forgiveness and tolerance.”

Last week, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila argued that the year of mercy is crucial to political and social life in the Philippines. Referring to political unrest and corruption, he explained that mercy “involves learning and forgiving, the only way to achieve reconciliation. Trust needs to be rediscovered and built.”

Turning back to the violence in San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, the head of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called upon the faithful to be “heralds of hope and prophetic voices against senseless violence, a violence which can never be justified by invoking the name of God.” Archbishop Joseph Kurtz also said “we must resist the hatred and suspicion that leads to policies of discrimination” and “we must channel our emotions of concern and protection, born in love, into a vibrant witness to the dignity of every person.”

Apart from Christ, impossible

I am not making this up. Despite the aberrations of our weakened human nature, the mercy intrinsic to Christianity is all around us. This mercy is nothing less than the active and recognized presence of Jesus Christ. It culminates in the Passion, Death and Resurrection at Easter. But it begins with God’s preparation of Mary to be His mother, so that He might enter our lives in the name of mercy. This is why the Jubilee of Mercy began on December 8th, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

And now, as the Incarnation of the Christ becomes visible at Christmas, we do well once again to choose mercy—as St. Paul said:

Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in any one's way…: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God…. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. Our mouth is open to you…our heart is wide. [2 Cor 6:2-11]

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: loumiamo - Dec. 28, 2015 7:35 AM ET USA

    Mercy or justice, that is the question. Sometimes Hollywood sneaks in a good answer, if u go back far enough. Saw an old Christmas episode of the Loretta Young show, with Loretta playing a head nurse who is also a nun. An old, rich, crotchety patient, tired of Loretta manipulating him for the benefit of others, says to her "Is there no justice?" And her quick reply was "Not in this world. There is mercy until we close our eyes. Then there is justice." Hollywood! Who'd a thunk it?

  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Dec. 23, 2015 3:02 PM ET USA

    There is no reason to expect mercy, tolerance, forbearance or reverence for life either from atheists or Muslims. These are Christian virtues, and any Christian who forsakes them or betrays them is going to be noticed. This is to our good. But for the grace of God, we would be like the nations, and life in this world would again be "nasty, brutish and short."

  • Posted by: dom6938 - Dec. 22, 2015 8:53 PM ET USA

    Good piece. I had to reread the opening paragraph as it seemed at first glance that you were insinuating that the Islamic radicals in San Bernardino were Christians, but your points are all right on, Dr. Mirus.