| We must always stand up for the truth. But if that’s all we do, we might sometimes do more harm than good. We need to give people the full Gospel message, which includes both truth and the good news of God’s grace and mercy.
In some cases, the biggest obstacle keeping people from accepting moral truth is the fear that they can’t change, that they can’t live up to God’s moral law, that their many sins must define them. Especially in our secular age, the Church, Pope Francis says, needs to be like a “field hospital” offering urgent care for the many who have been wounded by the relativistic culture. Someone gravely injured on the battlefield needs more than a lecture on his cholesterol level. He needs critical attention to the most serious wounds first. Similarly, we must give souls who don’t know the Gospel that critical foundation, not just a condemnation of a particular immoral act.
The 12th century mystic St. Bernard of Clarivaux pointed out that many souls refuse to turn to the Lord because they don’t know Him to be a God of mercy. If people don’t know God’s patience, how ready God is to forgive, and how much He can heal their weaknesses, then why would they bother trying to repent? It would be too hard! Bernard explains that someone considering the possibility of turning their lives around will run up against his own weaknesses. If he doesn’t know God’s mercy and grace, he will give up in discouragement:
“If he does not know how good God is, how kind and gentle, how willing to pardon, will not his sensually-inspired reason argue with him and say: ‘What are you doing?…Your sins are too grave and too many; nothing that you do, even to stripping the skin from your flesh, can make satisfaction for them…a lifetime’s habits are not easily conquered.’ Dismayed by these and similar arguments, the unhappy man quits the struggle, not knowing how easily God’s omnipotent goodness could overthrow all these obstacles.”
That’s why we need to lead with mercy, not just moral truth. Behind the debate you’re having about some moral issue is a real person who has his own struggles with various weakness, sins, hurts and fears—a person who needs God’s loving help. These souls need more than an argument about why what they’re doing is wrong (moral truth). Yes, they need that, but they also need the encouraging news that they can be forgiven and healed and have a fresh start in life (mercy). To merely tell a man addicted to pornography, for example, that he’s committing mortal sin is not helpful. Many men in this situation already feel trapped, ashamed and full of self-hatred. They simply can’t imagine a way out. Let’s offer them not just a condemnation of certain actions but a way out of their sins by sharing the good news of how much God still loves them and wants to forgive and heal them. Let’s pray for them, make sacrifices for them and share with them the Good News of God’s truth and
This article is based on Edward Sri’s newest book, Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love.
 St. Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, 38:1. END QUOTES