Andy Barton


By Andy Barton

In 2005, the singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier released her fourth solo album, “Mercy Now.” The title song is a somber plea for mercy in our families, church, and nation. If you don’t know this song, you should stop reading and go find it on whichever music service you use and give it a listen. In the last line, Gauthier sings, “Every single one of us could use some mercy now.”

The sentiment seems especially appropriate these days as we approach another election cycle and a season in which the pervasive ease with which we embrace anger toward one another is on full display. Our nation feels as divided as ever and this tendency isn’t limited to political factions but extends across various groups and affiliations that define us — whether by ideology, religion, or nationality.

A cursory glance through history might suggest that the inclination to dislike each other is a persistent human inclination. In many ways, things have gotten better with time. In his book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” Steven Pinker points to the dramatic decline in violence throughout human history. Pinker, a professor of psychology at Harvard, suggests that the evolution of reason is behind the reduction of violence in humankind. Homo sapiens, he suggests, have developed as a species to a point at which we are less inclined to resort to violence because we have a more advanced understanding of consequences and have developed better self-control. 

While it may very well be true that we have evolved to be less violent, I can’t help but wonder where our world would be in this respect without the profound impact of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. It’s a question that holds as much intrigue for atheists as it does for Christians. 

For believers, Christ’s message of love and redemption stands as a beacon against the darkness of hatred and sin. Conversely, an atheist might argue that religion, including Christianity, emerged from the complexities of human civilization rather than divine intervention. Yet even in that interpretation, the essence remains a striving towards a more compassionate world, rejecting the allure of hate for the challenge of love.

Whether we are less violent because of evolution or Christ’s gospel, the reality is that we do not seem to like — much less love — each other very much these days. While our civilization has tempered some of the horrific inclinations of our past, the discourse one finds in the news or on social media, from Washington D.C. to our state and neighborhoods, serve as stark reminders of our continued struggle to fulfill God’s commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. 

All too often we turn to anger and hate because loving our neighbor is hard. It is easier to harness vitriol for people who have different ideologies, economic status, or country of origin than it is to see past those differences and embrace them as fellow human beings. This creates the ugly divisions among great segments of the population that will be front and center as we head toward election day; however, all too often, it also defines the way we behave with our own family members.  

Care for the common good, that central tenet of Catholic social teaching, calls for true charity as a personal virtue in service to a societal obligation, proportionate to our roles and influence within our communities. Pope Benedict XVI’s words in “Caritas in Veritate” resonate profoundly: “The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbors, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practice this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis.”

Our Catholic faith calls us to a higher ideal: to reject the fleeting satisfaction of anger and instead embrace the enduring challenge of love. This is a timeless aspiration that demands introspection and action, urging us to bridge divides and build a world where compassion triumphs over division.  Every single one of us could use some mercy now.  

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