For several days during the second week of the Christmas season, the Responsorial Psalm comes from Psalm 98, bearing the refrain, “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God.”
Yes, God's mercy reaches even here — but that may not be what "all the ends of the earth" means. Photo via Shutterstock
I recently presided at Mass in the crypt of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and as we prayed that refrain, it occurred to me that perhaps the psalmist did not intend “the ends of the earth” to be something physical or geographical. The end of the earth is not Shipshewana. The end of the earth is not at Tierra del Fuego.
The saving power of God — or, to say it another way, the mercy of God — has been extended to each and every person in the world: to those whom we love and to those whom we do not love. The mercy of God has been extended to that coworker whom we wish would get a new job in a faraway country where there are only one-way flights. It has been extended to that priest we wish would become a missionary in Indonesia. And yes, it’s even been extended to our mother-in-law. The saving power of God is alive and moving in every person who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live, because God cannot be absent from any person. There is no person outside the saving power of God, no one outside the mercy of God.
In his book Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?, the Swiss Roman Catholic priest and theologian Hans urs Von Balthasar writes, “If someone asks us, ‘Will all men be saved?’, we answer in line with the Gospel: I do not know. I have no certainty whatsoever. This means as well that I have no certainty whatsoever that all men will not be saved. The whole of Scripture is full of a proclamation of a salvation that binds all men by a Redeemer who gathers together and reconciles the whole universe. That is quite sufficient to enable us to hope for the salvation of all men without thereby coming into contradiction with the Word of God.”
The saving power of God — or, to say it another way, the mercy of God — has been extended to each and every situation. Nothing is outside of the saving power of God because God cannot be absent from any situation. While it is easy to see God’s presence in some situations and not so easy in other situations, God is always present, because God cannot be absent. I do not know how to explain or to understand that God was present when Herod commanded that all the boys in Bethlehem under two years of age should be killed; that God was present at the Holocaust; that God was present in the hurricanes that ravaged countries last year, in the fires of California that caused so much damage, in the battlefields of war; that God was present at Mount Calvary. But the fact that I do not know how to explain God’s presence does not mean that it is not true. I believe that the light of the resurrection is burning everywhere. There is no situation outside of God’s mercy and God’s saving power.
The saving power of God — or, to say it another way, the mercy of God — extends to our very last fault and weakness and flaw and sin. There is nothing outside of the mercy of God. The mercy of God reaches everything, even the dirt under your fingernails, and his saving power extends to our brokenness, our weakness, our fears, our faults, our incompleteness, our sins. God’s mercy and God’s saving power are so strong that we have nothing to fear. There is no fault or weakness or flaw or sin that is outside of the saving power and the mercy of God.
Of course, we try every day to live a life without sin, to amend our lives, to be converted to God. And one day God will make this happen. What God did for Mary — make her without sin — he will do for us. It’s just a matter of time. In the meantime, however, we need to believe and accept and understand that the mercy of God goes deep, right down to every ounce and cell of our being.
This is what we are hoping when we pray that all the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God. Just as God’s saving power extends to Shipshewana and Tierra del Fuego, his mercy extends to every last facet of our lives. Nothing can escape the saving power of God or the mercy of God. How could it? That would be tantamount to saying that there are some things outside of God’s careful watch or outside of God’s control, which cannot be true.
In this, we can be at peace — not because we have no more progress to make or because we have arrived, but because God is always present and always faithful. And his mercy reaches from age to age, from generation to generation, and to all the ends of the earth.
As the last strains of this psalm die out and we begin a new year, we can rest safely in the loving embrace of a God whose mercy is infinite and relentless. May 2018 be a year of mercy within mercy within mercy.
Father Joe Corpora, CSC, is the director of the Catholic School Advantage campaign within Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program and associate director, pastoral care of students, in the Office of Campus Ministry. He is one of 700 priests whom Pope Francis appointed in February 2016 to serve as Missionaries of Mercy and his book of reflections on this experience, The Relentless Mercy of God, was published last spring by Corby Books.