If we look at God’s mercy and properly understand God’s mercy, then it gives us some concrete hints for being merciful towards others. Fathers and mothers in the family, for example, are encouraged to look towards God as a father, so that they can understand the meaning and framework of their own individual parenthood and what it means to be a father or a mother. However, these characteristics are actually applicable to every Christian. We all have to work on ourselves, and educate ourselves so that we can become “transparencies” of God’s mercy and be merciful towards other people. For example, we say that God is omnipresent. So it is the task of parents, for example, to be always “present” for the children. This doesn’t mean that they have to be physically present everywhere where their children are –this is impossible. But they should always be present for their children in the hearts. The children are always present in the hearts of the parents, and the parents are always present in the hearts of the children. Parents understand and know all the interests and needs of their children, and children understand and know the needs and desires of their parents. God the Father is all-wise. If we want to be like God then we also have to strive for a certain wisdom. Wisdom for example means that we know when to demand something from someone else, and when we have to leave things as they are. Wisdom means we get the right balance between saying something that has to be said, or remaining silent and wait for a better opportunity. Wisdom also means that we encourage in ourselves the ability to look for the good in people and to believe in the good in people even when we have been disappointed or hurt over and over again. Can we really believe, for instance, that God has placed something good in every single human being, even if they have done something very wicked or horribly wrong? God is also all-holy. This too is the first vocation of every Christian – to be holy and to try and discover what God’s will is for each one of us every day of our lives. All these different characteristics that describe the image of God are also the tasks and daily mission for each and every Christian. The attributes which we assign to God, are the same attributes which we have to develop and ourselves. When we experience the weaknesses and limitation of others, then we can always ask the question: have I got similar weaknesses? Do I have a similar limitation? This is the process of self-education. There will never be a time, when we are not called to work on ourselves and train ourselves more and more in what it means to follow Jesus Christ and reflect the merciful and endless love of God. Hopefully, we will all be able to say with time: “What is the greatest reality in my life? The greatest reality in my life is God the Father and his merciful and boundless love!”
Sharing mercy with others, will always include, in a very special way, the process of forgiveness. Mercy and forgiveness belong together. Forgiveness means my arms are open, my home is open, and most of all, my heart is open. When we forgive each other, we prove that there is a love present in our world, that is stronger than any sin or hurt. Jesus gets on this forgiveness thing, and He just won’t let it go. Everywhere Jesus goes, He either teaches about forgiveness or He offers it to someone. Zacchaeus. Peter. The woman at the well. The woman caught in adultery. When Jesus teaches His followers to pray, He tells them to ask for forgiveness and for the strength to forgive other people. Every place you open the Gospels, Jesus is sounding the bugle of forgiveness. The truth is obvious: Jesus, very simply, is all about forgiveness. So much so that His first sermon is just one word, “Repent!” as He makes it plain that we need forgiveness. And His last words are uttered to the Father from the cross on behalf of the soldiers below. In other words, forgiveness provides the first and last word of Jesus’s entire ministry. That alone teaches us how very important forgiveness is to our God. And how important it should be to us. Forgiveness will transform you and your relationships once you release its power into your life. You will find a new and higher level of living and of relationships. Read this inspirational text from Father Mike Schmitz, from Dynamic Catholic: Grudge holding is not one of our most attractive traits. For years, I carried around with me all the people who had hurt me or disappointed me. Like a wheelbarrow full of grudges, resentments, and wrongs to be righted. They went with me everywhere I went, as if I were some kind of supernatural scorekeeper who could track all the wrongs done and remember them in case they were needed at a moment’s notice. That is when I was forced to find the key. A key to let me out of the prison cell of past hurt and wrongs so that I could live in the present and move toward the future. I discovered that the key is forgiveness. One of the Spiritual Works of Mercy is to forgive willingly. How? Three steps:
- Acknowledge that there has been an offence. It is necessary. There is something to forgive.
- What has this person cost me. In front of Jesus add it up.
- Then say: I am not going to make you pay me back.
Mercy – know what you owe me, but I release you from your debt. In justice you owe me – mercy says I release you from your debt. You will be set free by becoming a person of mercy. “Forgiveness isn’t an event, it is a process.” Knowing that forgiveness is a process and not just an event reveals why it is so difficult to forgive. We want it to be over and done with in a single moment, but in reality it takes a serious emotional and spiritual commitment. While difficult, there are few skills more important in life than forgiveness. There isn’t a person on the planet that hasn’t needed to give forgiveness. To help us forgive, we need to be aware of two incredibly simple but transformative truths about forgiveness. The first is, order matters. The three-step process on how to forgive is incredibly helpful, but perhaps the most important part about the process is in adhering to the order. Here is the order:
- Acknowledge that there is something to forgive.
- Count precisely what an individual has caused you.
- Don’t say it’s ok or what they did doesn’t matter. Count the cost and then make a decision to release them of their debt.
Skipping one of these steps or trying to do it in a different order would be to your detriment. Think about it this way. About ten years ago, my dad decided to teach me how to change an electrical socket. He unscrewed the front casing and told me the first step is to pull the socket out from within the wall. The immediate result was a sharp electrical shock that caused my dad to jump back in pain. He looked at me with a sheepish grin and said, “first step, turn off the power!” Order seriously matters when changing an electrical outlet, and order seriously matters when trying to forgive others. The second truth is that forgiveness frees both the forgiven and the forgiver. Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Those who are unwilling to forgive are burdened by an unshakable misery. This is a fate that robs us of the joy and the peace we so desperately seek. Go to Jesus, acknowledge the debt, count the cost, and forgive willingly. Remember, this is a process. Perseverance will relieve you and those who need forgiving of the burden you carry. Let’s look at the example of Peter, who betrayed Jesus. So how in the world did this Peter become the rock of the Church, Saint Peter? Because of one defining moment. A moment of extraordinary forgiveness. A turning point in which forgiveness unlocked the door of Peter’s past and prepared the way home to God’s future. Forgiveness turned the bolt and opened a new path. This defining moment of Peter’s life gives us insight into the very heart of God. A God who sees more in us than we see in ourselves. A God who is willing to forget the past and invite us into a bold, divine future. All by issuing a single power, the one most powerful word in the English language and the defining word of the Christian faith. Forgiveness. When Jesus returns to His disciples in His resurrected form, Peter and some of the disciples have been out fishing and are having a fish fry on the shore of the lake. When Jesus returns, He calls Peter over to the side. It is hard, perhaps even impossible, to imagine how Peter felt as he made his way over to Jesus. A walk of shame. With all the memories of his failures and cowardice still bouncing in his cranium, Peter stands before Jesus, his Lord. You remember the conversation: “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my lambs.” A second time. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep.” And again. A third time. Just as Peter had fallen asleep three times at the garden, and denied Jesus three times, now Jesus three times looks beyond the past and offers Peter a future. “Peter, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Feed my sheep.” Say this prayer today: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy”. (From the Saint Francis Prayer)
Mercy in our lives means that we see people in a different way. It means, for example, that we don’t just look at the outward appearances of people; we try to catch a glimpse of their hearts, and look a little bit deeper. If we really want to get to know people better and more accurately, then we have to look deeper into their souls. Jesus revealed the mercy of God in many ways. And his way of showing mercy is the only true measure for our ideal of Christian living. If we want to see people in a more positive light and in a better light, then we have to able to understand people more. People make mistakes, very often, because deep down they are searching for love, or they’re searching for happiness or fulfilment in their own lives. How many sins, how many false opinions, how many ideologies, how many prejudices are, at the end of the day, all about the search for happiness, or the search for a liberating love that has never been experienced. Christian, merciful love empowers us and makes it possible that we can look beyond peoples mistakes, and with a generous and open heart, see them in a positive light. If we are able to see other people in a better way, then we can also apply this to ourselves. Here we come to the beauty and the necessity of the Sacrament of Mercy – Confession. This is a wonderful short meditation from Father Mike Schmitz, from Dynamic Catholics, about forgiveness and confession: How hard is it to forgive others? We can’t forgive because we don’t allow God to forgive us. What is confession? There are things that you have done that has taken your heart from my heart. You have hurt other people. Give me another chance to love you, says God. Then we can give mercy to others. We can become agents of mercy. Several years ago, as I stood in line for the sacrament of confession about to confess for the umpteenth time a sin I couldn’t seem to quit, I began to fear that God’s mercy was running out. I didn’t doubt that God would pardon a person who turned to him after a life of the most heinous sins imaginable. What I did doubt was that he would continue to forgive me. How many times have I said, “I will never do this again,” only to return to that sin like a dog to its vomit (see 2 Peter 2:22)? At that moment, by God’s grace, no doubt, I was reminded of the incident in the Gospel of Matthew when Peter approached Our Lord with a question: Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:21-22) Now Jesus did not mean that Peter was to forgive his brother 490 times and then no more. No, rather, “seventy times seven” signified perfection and consistency. It then occurred to me, if God’s forgiveness is not like that—perfect and consistent—then Jesus was commanding Peter to act in a way that was contrary to the nature of God. The truth is, God is infinite in all of his attributes. In fearing that God’s mercy was slowly evaporating, I was unintentionally making God in my image. If you have ever been tempted to doubt God’s mercy as I did, or if you’re tempted to do that now, please ingrain the following words from St. Claude de la Colombiere into your brain: I glorify you in making known how good you are towards sinners, and that your mercy prevails over all malice, that nothing can destroy it, that no matter how many times or how shamefully we fall, or how criminally, a sinner need not be driven to despair of [God’s] pardon. . It is in vain that your enemy and mine sets traps for me every day. He will make me lose everything else before the hope that I have in your mercy. Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, be at peace. The same God who forgave Moses the murderer, Rahab the prostitute, David the adulterer, and Peter the denier will forgive you. All you have to do is seek that forgiveness with a contrite heart. The only sin God won’t forgive is the one you will not ask forgiveness for. God’s mercy is infinite. His forgiveness is infinite.
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.