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LOPEZ: We could learn something about mercy even from a Super Bowl commercial
Kathryn Lopez
Kathryn Lopez

For all our busyness, we have too much time on our hands. Some of the most recent evidence is the controversy and commentary (guilty!) over the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl commercial about Jesus.

He sure does get us, thanks be to God. And the message is a critical, lifesaving one.

The message was confusing, it has been said, as it showed the washing of the feet of different types of people — some who would not, perhaps, pass traditional Christian muster. But that’s the whole point of telling a Gospel story in many ways. You can convey only so much during a football commercial, and what did the commercial do? It said the name of Jesus and showed a little window into the Gospel and the Beatitudes — which are the ultimate game-changer.

I was sitting across from a famous secular sociologist a few years ago. He knew I was Catholic and started talking to me about the Sermon on the Mount. He said that if Christians really lived by it, really inundated people with it, we wouldn’t have many of the problems that people today look to government to solve. Amen. That seemed to be the heart of “He Gets Us.” He knows we are human, wounded, and often a mess. And He wants to meet us there with mercy. For conversion. But first for an encounter with love. That’s sometimes seems impossible to communicate in the midst of all our divisions.

Pope Francis is associated with mercy, but he obviously did not invent it. Nor did John Paul II, though he also wrote beautifully about it: “The truth, revealed in Christ, about God the Father of mercies, enables us to see Him as particularly close to man especially when man is suffering, when he is under threat at the very heart of his existence and dignity,” he wrote in 1980. “And this is why, in the situation of the Church and the world today, many individuals and groups guided by a lively sense of faith are turning, I would say almost spontaneously, to the mercy of God,” he continued. “They are certainly being moved to do this by Christ Himself, who through His Spirit works within human hearts. For the mystery of God the ‘Father of mercies’ revealed by Christ becomes, in the context of today’s threats to man, as it were a unique appeal addressed to the Church.”

This is the Gospel the world needs. Believe or not, it is a tender gift in its counterculturalism.

In the first week of this year, there was a gathering in St. Louis of young people who seek something more in life. SEEK is a rally organized by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students — though there is no religious-affiliation check for entry. My friend Monsignor James Patrick Shea, who is president of the University of Mary in North Dakota, spoke about the depths of the pain of confusion in the culture and in the hearts of young people — and probably us all, on some level, if we’re honest. “The human race is haunted,” he said. “We, among all the creatures on the face of the earth, are ill at ease with our existence. We are lost in this world. We are lost in our own lives, and we can take that for granted.”

“We can think it’s how it’s supposed to be, and that it’s normal. But it’s not,” he continued. “It is very surprising, highly unusual, and it demands an explanation. In the last decade, we have seen a societal explosion in loneliness, anxiety, deep sadness, and a general inability to cope with life.”

His point was that the kids are not the problem; the culture is. And why is the culture a problem? Because we do not love one another. It’s simple in a sense, and so it may seem simplistic, but it’s profound and also less complicated than we make things out to be.

The most important moment in the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl ad was when it showed a woman sitting with a young girl outside of an abortion clinic. The ad didn’t use Planned Parenthood’s name, but it was quite clear that that’s where the women were. A pro-life woman washed the feet of someone who was presumably going to the clinic for an abortion. Maybe she didn’t go inside because of the human encounter on the way in. After Roe v. Wade, the issue has become even more contentious — which would have seemed impossible — and yet here we are. And in a split second during the Super Bowl, we saw that there may be more to the story. There may be people who want to serve. There may be young women who want accompaniment. Honestly, there was something courageous about the commercial. Some criticized that it checked “woke” boxes by including popular “social justice” issues. But maybe this was an attempt to return to the human and — as we were about to begin the humbling season of Lent — remind us that there’s so much more to life than the politics we tend to obsess about.

The message of “He Gets Us” need not be that we should stay where we are in our misery and sin, if that is where we are — and that is the human condition, to some extent. It’s a reminder that we can help one another to something more. And whether you are a believer or not, God’s grace doesn’t hurt. Your neighbor can be the conduit. Which probably was the point of the ad.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book “A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living.” She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York.  She can be contacted at