What do we mean when we want to become “channels” of God’s mercy to others? We’re going to look in the next weeks at four different aspects: 1. Becoming “windows” to God; 2. seeing people in a different light; 3. the power of forgiveness and 4. becoming different people. Firstly: Becoming windows to God – People today want to see God in us. The greatest treasure that people should find in us is hopefully God. We are all called, each in his own specific and individual way, to be “transparencies” of God’s love. If we don’t do this, then it is very hard for other people today to believe in God and to see the relevance of believing in God. So many people have lost their way and they cannot find “everyday bridges” that will lead them to an experience of the Transcendent. One such “bridge” is, without doubt, the role of parents and family in the home. When people experience the real love of a father, and the real love of a mother, then that builds a living connection to God, and makes faith in God much easier. But this reason, it is so important that modern-day parents take this mission seriously: They are called to live out and represent the merciful love of God the Father in their own homes. Their motherhood and their fatherhood towards their children should become like “windows” of God’s love for other people. When children look at their own mum and dad, then they should be able to imagine who God is and what he is like. When children experience a mother’s or father’s love towards them, then they can imagine how much God loves them. When children experience that their mother and father will always be faithful to them and never leave them no matter what, then they can understand what it means when we hear that God is eternally faithful to us, and will always keep his promises. The way we encounter each other, speak to each other and live with each other is the normal way of how we bring the compassion, the love and the mercy of God to others. Our daily living should reflect God’s love and mercy in our lives. Fatherhood and motherhood in the family are essential and their lasting value cannot be calculated. Every father, for instance, should measure his fatherhood on God’s fatherhood. Every father has to realise that the way he lives with his children, and the way that he loves his children, determines, to a great extent, how they will see God, and what their image of God will be, not only in their childhood, but also in their adult lives in the future. An example of this is in the life of Saint Therese of Lysieux. Her parents have recently been canonised by Pope Francis. In the thinking and in the experience of Therese there was no separation or division between her biological father and her heavenly Father. She once wrote: “I look at my father, and and I know that my father is looking at God, and in this way I learned to look at God”. She understood very quickly the merciful love of God and it became for her an easy road because she could experience in the love of her own father, how good and tender God must be. “If my father is like this towards me, and loves me and accepts me like this, then God must at least love me in the same way – although, in actual fact, I know he loves me much more”.
If we have received God’s mercy, and we believe in God’s mercy, then the desire will be alive in us to make that mercy available to others so that they too can experience it. We do this by becoming a “transparency” of God – in other words, people see the love of God alive in us and working in us. We become like a “window” to God. People look at us, and in fact they don’t see us alone, they also see God in us. This is the aim and ultimate destination of every Christian. This is what the first and greatest commandment actually means – to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbour as ourselves. The Year of Mercy highlights the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy as the “blueprint” for the life of faith. Pope Francis writes in his Book “The Name of God is Mercy”: Jesus sends forth his disciples not as holders of power or as masters of a law. He sends them forth into the world asking them to live in the logic of love and selflessness. What are the most important things that a believer should do during the Holy Year of Mercy? He should open up to the mercy of God, open up his heart and himself, and allow Jesus to come toward him by approaching the confessional with faith. And he should try and be merciful with others. Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the traveller, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. I do not think there is much to explain. And if we look at our situation, our society, it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God, that is where we touch the Lord. Christ himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: “Whatever you did to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). After the Corporal Works of Mercy come the Spiritual Works of Mercy: advise those in doubt; teach the ignorant; admonish the sinners; console the afflicted; forgive offences; be patient with annoying people; pray to God for both the living and the dead. Let us look at the first four Spiritual Works of Mercy: Don’t they have to do with what we have already defined as “the apostolate of the ear?” Reach out, know how to listen, advise them, and teach them through our own experience. By welcoming a marginalised person whose body is wounded and by welcoming the sinner whose soul is wounded, we put our credibility as Christians on the line. Let us always remember the words of Saint John of the Cross: “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” It seems today, in the light of so many needs and so much woundedness in modern-day people and in modern-day society, this merciful love of God is so painfully needed and so urgently necessary. The first “profession” and the first vocation of every Christian is love: to do everything because of love, through love and for love. Every Christian should be “a place” where people can discover and encounter God and where God and his merciful love are made present and evident. Love has to permeate everything, and love should be at the heart of every Christian life. We are referring here to a love that is personal, that is warm and from the heart, that is willing to sacrifice and that perseveres for the welfare of others, putting them always first. The greatest power in heaven and on earth is the power of love, and love is also the best and most creative way to educate and form the human heart. In other words, we have to become “geniuses” of love, and we do this by allowing love not to remain some kind of theory, but to be the greatest motivator for what we say and do in our own personal lives.
Mary, our Blessed Mother, has a special mission in the Church to help us discover the mercy of God in our own lives. God revealed his mercy in such a powerful way in her life. She became the “mirror” of God’s mercy and love. When we get close to Mary and try to love her and imitate her, then we can better understand what it means that God is merciful. For centuries, the Church has honoured her and trusted her as “the Mother of mercy”. In her life and experiences, God revealed – in the most special way – his merciful love and his fatherly care. For this reason, Mary now has a special task and mission in the Church today to help each one of us discover God’s mercy for ourselves. Cardinal Faulhaber, in the Marian Year 1954, famously commented: “The merciful Father didn’t place his grace in the stars, or in the depths of the ocean, or hidden in fine pearls; he put his grace into the hands of a Mother, because only a mother is always willing to give and keep on giving”. Mary becomes for the disciples of Jesus an example of faith and an educator in the spiritual life. Love is a reality that unites us to someone else and even makes us alike. If we learn to love our Blessed Mother in heaven then we unite ourselves to her and we become like her: We become someone who experiences God’s mercy, and we desire to be mediators or agents of that mercy to others. Matthew Kelly wrote about the “biggest lie” and he said the following: There is plenty of evidence that the joy we seek can be found by applying the teachings of Jesus to our lives. So, what is it that holds us back from fully embracing the gospel of Jesus Christ? Our fear and brokenness can be an obstacle. God invites us to a total surrender and we had afraid to let go. The culture in all its distractions can prevent us from seeing the beauty of the life God invites us to live. Self-loathing, unwillingness to forgive ourselves and others, biases and prejudices that have been born from past experiences, complacency toward others in need, selfishness – these are all real obstacles in our quest to authentically live the teachings of Jesus. There are also the lies that are always swirling around Christianity. These lies can sow doubt in our hearts and minds, and erode our faith. There are so many lies in circulation about Christians and Christianity. Most are the result of ignorance. Some are the result of intentional misinformation. A handful are a malicious personal attack upon Jesus in an attempt to discredit the Christian faith. Some of these lies are aimed at our theology and beliefs, and others are aimed at the Christian way of life. But one lie is having a diabolical impact on the lives of modern Christians. It is the biggest lie in the history of Christianity. It is worth noting that this lie is not one that non-Christians tell. It is a lie we tell ourselves as Christians. This is the lie: Holiness is not possible.The great majority of modern Christians don’t actually believe that holiness is possible. Sure, we believe it is possible for our grandmothers or some mediaeval saint –just not for us. We don’t actually believe that holiness is possible for us. It is astounding that just one lie can neutralise the majority of Christians. That’s right, neutralise. This lie takes is out of the game and turns us into mere spectators in the epic story of Christianity. It may be the devil’s biggest triumph in modern history. It is the holocaust of Christian spirituality. In thousands of ways every day we tell ourselves and each other: holiness is not possible. But it is a lie. And we cannot experience the complete joy that God wants for us and that we want for ourselves until we get beyond it. When did you stop believing holiness was possible for you? Here is a beautiful Prayer for the coming days: Jesus, protect me from all the lies that seek to build a barrier between you and me, and remind me of my great destiny. Amen.
One of the “masterpieces” of the spiritual life is how to deal with our own weaknesses, our sinfulness and personal misery before God. If we don’t find a good and healthy way to do this, we always run the risk that our spiritual lives never seem to grow and mature and that, in actual fact, they no longer do us any good, do not bring us closer to God, but even start to become a kind of obstacle. There are four simple answers to how do we can deal with our weaknesses and are limitations: i. Don’t be surprised! This means, don’t be surprised that we are weak, don’t be surprised that we make mistakes, don’t be surprised that we sin – we do all this because we are human, because we are “creation”. Don’t be surprised that we are tempted, don’t be surprised that we encounter difficulties, anxieties, fears and doubts – we experience all these things, because we are human, and we are fragile. If we want to be surprised at anything at all, then we should be surprised that we are not actually worse than we are. However, we should never be surprised that we are as we are. ii. Don’t get disappointed! We have to take seriously that we are people influenced by Original Sin. We are limited and we have problems, and we carry a lot of “baggage” around with us. Sometimes, if we try to do our best and try to be closer to God, we often get disappointed, or feel we have let ourselves down, or get confused if any hope of improvement is really possible. We realise that we have been given so many opportunities and received so many graces from God to change things and make things better, and we didn’t use them or profit from them, when we could have done. However, precisely in such situations, we must watch and be vigilant that we don’t allow ourselves to get disappointed or confused. If we allow ourselves to be disappointed, we often take away the necessary energy and resources that we need to “walk again” with the Lord. iii. Don’t get discouraged! If we allow ourselves to become discouraged, we actually put up the greatest obstacle to a new beginning. Discouragement drains our spiritual life completely, and can be even more dangerous than more serious sins and temptations. The experience of joy in the Christian life is essential to us. The person who knows that God loves them and accepts them as they are, has many reasons to celebrate and rejoice. This positive, happy and optimistic feeling about life and attitude towards life gives energy and courage in our daily Christian living. For this reason, it is so important that we never allow discouragement to find a home in us, or find a foothold in our souls. And then iv. Don’t give up! We give up and we start to become indifferent when we say something like: “This is the way I was made, nothing works, so I won’t even try any more”. Self-pity or constantly capitulating before our mistakes or limitations is no solution. By not giving up, we include in our spiritual lives, the element of perseverance – which was so important to Jesus. We should always remember this liberating message: No one needs to be perfect before God. We should and may bring all our failings and limitations to him. God also is very aware of who we are and he already reckons with our sins and mistakes before we even make them. Therefore, when they do happen in our lives, it is not a tragedy. What is important, is a positive way in dealing with sins and limitations. The experience of our own weaknesses and misery, the experience that we are all sinners, is the greatest means to open the “floodgates” of God’s mercy in our lives.
Receiving God’s mercy also gives us a clearer picture of ourselves. It guides us to seeing ourselves in a more accurate and truthful light. Too often, we almost run away from our true selves and we don’t take seriously enough our own limitations and our own helplessness. Weaknesses and limitations are often hidden or suppressed, or perhaps even categorically denied. Sometimes, we go around wearing a kind of invisible “mask” that changes, depending on who we are with or in what situation we find ourselves. This “personality mask” hides our true face and who we truly are. Sometimes when God intervenes in a hard way in our lives, it is because he has the aim to remove these masks once and for all and to help us move on from any kind of denial about ourselves. Receiving God’s mercy means that we feel the courage to see ourselves as we really are, and we no longer have the need or the intention of projecting an image of ourselves before God or before others that it is simply untrue. Unfortunately, when we do not acknowledge our own guilt and our own responsibilities, and how our words and actions have an effect on the people around us, then we run the serious risk of living a spiritually unhealthy life. If we keep saying to ourselves, for example: “Don’t worry, it’s not serious, there are worst things in the world, or this or that is not really a sin, or I’m not such a bad person after all, etc”, then we actually not only deceive ourselves, but we slowly close the door to receiving God’s mercy. Let’s face it, the person who is not willing to acknowledge any personal guilt or sinfulness, is not in need of salvation. And when that person feels he or she is not in need of salvation, then having a “saviour” becomes very quickly superfluous to requirements. The courage to see ourselves as we really are is one of the gifts of God’s mercy. When we deal properly with our own limitations, we actually walk the good path to discovering our own true identity. At the end of the day, our human nature desires truth and justice to remain whole and healthy. Truth and justice consists in the acknowledgement of our weaknesses and our sinfulness. For this reason, the sacrament of confession is so important and life-giving, because it gives us the opportunity to bring our sinfulness and our guilt to God and leave them with God. From the perspective of human nature, the confession of our sins strengthens us, sets us free, and enables us to reconcile with the people around us in a much quicker and better way than before. When we go to confession we actually acknowledge who we really are, and we accept the responsibility for who we are. Through the sacrament, we also open ourselves to God and open ourselves to the community of the Church, so that a new beginning and a better future is possible. The sacrament of confession, for this reason, is a source of joy and renewal in people’s lives. In the sacrament, everyone can experience God and receive his blessing and healing from the “ocean of his mercy”. God wants to inwardly touch each one of us, so that confession becomes the place where we all experience the merciful love of God, our Father. Confession is not just a source of grace or mercy, it is also a means of formation and growth in the spiritual life.
Receiving mercy and giving mercy are the two essential sides of the same coin. Let’s look at the first of four aspects of receiving God’s mercy: Discovering God’s Mercy for ourselves. What is it mean to receive God’s mercy? First of all, we need to acknowledge that we need mercy and that we want God’s mercy in our lives. The first and only step required to experience mercy, Pope Francis says, is to acknowledge that we are in need of mercy. “Jesus comes for us, when we recognize that we are sinners.” Then we can open our hearts to receive his mercy. Not unlike the prodigal son, we too must have a change of heart, and must get up and make our way back home to the Father. This requires a change of heart, making a decision, and then acting on that decision. It is so important for our own personal faith, that we really believe and live out of the conviction that God loves us – we want to experience that love and even feel that love. This encounter with God’s mercy cannot be taken for granted. We need to work at it and use our time and energy to discover the love of God in everything that is going on in our lives. Faith and a healthy spiritual life builds on the foundation, that we believe that we are loved and this conviction gives us an awareness and confidence of value and personal worth. We need to strengthen this feeling in ourselves in such a way that it offers healing and support in the many questions and problems of daily life. If we live from that knowledge that God loves us, then we don’t need the many distractions, sensations, and stimulations from outside or even constant attention. We live from the awareness and the experience: “God loves me as I am, and he accepts me as I am – with all my limitations, foibles and even wretchedness – God loves me and that will never ever change.” This conviction of being loved needs to be worked at often during our day. For example, we need to plan times in our day where we just stop for a moment and remind ourselves again how God is present in our lives, and how everything that happens to us has a purpose and is motivated by his love. Our real life will take on a new character and have a new feel about it, if we allow this reality to enter into our spiritual lives fully. Prayer starts to become a true “school of love”, where we consider and remember the many gifts of God that we receive during our day. Saint Ignatius of Loyola once wrote: “We want to search for God, discover God and then love God in everyone and in everything”. The people of Israel understood how to search for God and discover God in their journey and history, and for this reason, were able to celebrate God’s guidance and presence. This conviction grew stronger in them and they simply knew that God loved them passionately and that he had chosen them to be his special people. Prayer in the evening, for instance, is a wonderful opportunity to stop for a moment and consider the day that we have shared – asking ourselves, where have we experienced the mercy and love of God. The Church’s tradition calls this the “examination of conscience”. It is an opportunity to look back at the day with everything that went on during that day, remembering the people that we met and also taking seriously how the day went, including our strengths and weaknesses, our fears and anxieties, our prejudices and our generosity. On the one hand, we need to celebrate what was good and give thanks; and on the other hand, we also need to acknowledge our guilt and our sinfulness in an honest and upright way. Let us use this Year of Mercy to discover again God’s mercy for ourselves.
The Year of Mercy is an opportunity to translate our faith in the mercy and love of God into our daily lives. God’s mercy, and the teaching about God’s mercy, should motivate us to live well and to master daily life. Every Christian is called to receive the merciful love of God; i.e. to have an open heart for the workings of God’s mercy in his or her own life. And at the same time, every Christian is called to be a “mediator” of God’s mercy to others; i.e. to share God’s merciful and forgiving love with the people around them. When we speak about becoming “channels” or “mediators” of God’s love for others, then we are speaking, at the end of the day, about love for our neighbour. Love of neighbour should always be nourished and inspired by our love of God. We are called to look out for each other, and put the welfare of others before our own welfare. We are called to have a generous and open heart for each other and love each other mutually – and this love for each other also brings about a positive acceptance and esteem for each other. Love of neighbour, at the end of the day, is an act of service towards them: Everything that I am, and everything I have, is at the disposal of the people around me. In other words, following Christ means we give our hearts to each other – and the heart that we want to give to each other, is a heart which is full of mercy, and full of tenderness. The heart, has always been the symbol of the innermost core of someone’s personality. Whoever has our hearts, will have our entire self and everything that is important to us. To have a heart full of mercy means that we put each other first, and that we have a constant desire to look out for each other’s needs, and shows this by concrete acts of love. We look at each other in a personal way and we esteem each other, because we are all created “in the image and likeness of God”. Becoming “mediators” of God’s mercy, especially in this Year of Mercy, means that we also strive every day to let our love grow and mature – our natural love for each other and our supernatural love for God. If we want to grow in supernatural love, and take another step into the world of love, then we must pray and hope that the Holy Spirit – who is the “uncreated love” will take possession of our souls and be present in us. We have to feel more than more dependent on the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, otherwise it is impossible to grow in supernatural love. How do we grow natural love – the love for the people around us? We grow in natural love when we are willing to “swim” in the “ocean of God’s mercy” and also when we acknowledge our own personal misery and wretchedness. This Year of Mercy, can give us the gift to realise that we grow in our love of God through our own experience and acknowledgement of sinfulness and weakness. This is the great “masterpiece” of the spiritual life – something we know so little about. We have to learn again to accept our limitations and to use our sins and limitations as a “ladder” to reach God. They should never be an obstacle, but a means to “jump not the heart of God”, our Merciful Father.