Everything in our life, today as in the time of Jesus, starts with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like everyone else and at the same time different. Think of the Gospel of John, where it tells about the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus (cf. 1:35-42). Andrew, John, and Simon felt themselves looked at deep down, known intimately, and this generated in them a surprise, a wonder that immediately bound them to Him. Or when, after the Resurrection, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love Me?” (Jn. 21:15), and Peter responded, “Yes.” That yes was not the product of an effort of will, did not come only from the decision of the man Simon: it came even before, from Grace. It was that “anticipate,” Grace that precedes. This was the crucial discovery for Saint Paul, for Saint Augustine, and many other saints: Jesus Christ is always first. He “anticipates” us; He awaits us; Jesus Christ always precedes us, and when we arrive, He is already there waiting. He is like the flower of the almond tree, the one that flowers first, and announces springtime.
You cannot understand this dynamic of the encounter that arouses wonder and adhesion without mercy. Only those who have been caressed by the tenderness of mercy truly know the Lord. The special place of the encounter is the caress of mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin. And for this reason you have sometimes heard me say that the privileged place of the encounter with Jesus Christ is my sin. This embrace of mercy is what gives me the desire to respond and to change, and can originate a changed life.
Christian morality is not the titanic, voluntaristic effort of those who decide to be coherent and who succeed, a sort of solitary challenge in front of the world. No. This is not Christian morality; it is another thing. Christian morality is the response, the moved response to the surprising, unexpected mercy, even “unjust” according to human criteria, of One who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me anyway, esteems me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, expects of me. Christian morality does not mean never falling, but always rising, thanks to His hand that pulls us up.
And the road of the Church is also this: allowing the great mercy of God to be manifested. Pope Francis said recently to the new Cardinals: “The way of the Church is not to condemn anyone for eternity; to pour out the balm of God’s mercy on all those who ask for it with a sincere heart. The way of the Church is precisely to leave her four walls behind and to go out in search of those who are distant, those essentially on the ‘outskirts’ of life. It is to adopt fully God’s own approach,” which is that of mercy (Homily, February 15, 2015). The Church, too, should feel the joyous impulse to become the almond flower, that is, springtime like Jesus, for all of humanity.