The understanding and significance of mercy in the New Testament flows from the witness of the Old Testament – there is a powerful continuity at work. Some parts of the Old Testament are even quoted in the New Testament, regarding the reality and power of mercy. There are many texts in the New Testament that speak about the merciful love of God to his people: for example, we have the different parables that Jesus told to reveal to us how powerful the merciful love of God is: The parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32), the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7) and also the parable of the loss coin (Luke 15:8-10) are all wonderful examples. In all these parables the merciful love of God, our Father, becomes so clear and comforting. The Gospel of Luke, without doubt, is where the theme and the witness of mercy is expressed in a special way. For this reason St Luke’s Gospel is also known as the “Gospel of mercy”. In this Gospel, we have, for example, the wonderful song of Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:50), and the three Parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin and the Lost Son (Chapter 15). Jesus does not only speak about the merciful love of God. His proclamation of God’s mercy is intimately connected with all that he does and says, and his own personal life. Because he wants to proclaim mercy everywhere and at all times, Christ heals the sick, he comforts the sad and he goes out of his way to encounter in love the sinner, and even goes out of his way to find the lost at every turn. At the same time, Jesus calls his followers to follow his example and be inspired and motivated by love and mercy. They should allow their own lives and actions to be guided by the gift of mercy. Jesus asks us to be merciful to each other. And he praises those and calls them blessed who are willing to give this kind of love to others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7). Jesus challenges us to be truly merciful to each other and also to forgive each other. Naturally, the request to forgive each other in generosity does not cancel out the demands of justice. When we forgive, when we show mercy, it never means that we capitulate before evil, or before suffering or insults. Each time in the Gospels, for example, when forgiveness is talked about or explained, it always includes the message to put things right and to alleviate suffering, and even to perform atonement for the many hurts or insults that have been endured. For this reason, justice will always belong to the basic structure of mercy. However, mercy gives justice and much deeper and much more healing content. This expresses itself in the fullest way when we forgive each other. Continue reading “Year of Mercy – “I will never forget you” Part III”
In Part I, we looked at the mercy of God through the yes of the prophet Hosea. In Part II, we will continue the message of mercy from the Prophet Isaiah. The second prophet that reveals God’s mercy in a special way is the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is the prophet during the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel. Israel experienced the Exile as very difficult time of punishment and loss, where they felt that God had left them altogether and had abandoned them. The people felt completely without hope and their misery and exile comes from the fact that God had turned his back on them. In the middle of this dire situation, a new and unexpected prophetic message comes to the people in exile – this is the second and third generation of Israel living in Babylon. The message is a message of love, comfort and hope: God is returning to his people and has never forgotten them. God is still faithful. There is a new hope. The prophet Isaiah uses a very human and very powerful image to express God’s love and mercy for his people:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isaiah 49:15).
In this message of the prophet Isaiah, we see again God’s mercy and love towards his people. God compares himself to a mother and reaches out to his chosen people with a mother’s heart and tenderness. Isaiah also says to the people you should rejoice and you should be happy now and you should break into song because God has come back to his people and those who have been broken and humiliated will receive his mercy again:
Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel. (see Isaiah 44:23).
He tells his people that he’s never forgotten them, and to prove that he has never forgotten them, he reveals to the people a unique symbol of mercy, that will be completely understood by by any people at any time; and that is the image of the love of a mother towards her child. God, however, even goes further than this. He tells the people that even if a mother should forget her child – which is practically impossible –then God still will never forget his people even though they have sinned against him and even though they have broken the covenant with him. He tells his people: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16). This is a symbol of a faithfulness and a mercy that can never be broken. Isaiah is also the prophet who will later prophesy about the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, who will bring the boundless mercy of the Father in the greatest and most powerful way. It is this Son of God who will take away the sins of the world.
A wonderful story from medieval times traces the wood of the cross on which Jesus died, all the way back to the Garden of Paradise, where God made grow “every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” (Genesis 2,9) The great tree of Paradise is the “tree of life.” Seeds from the tree of life, so our story goes, were planted from age to age, until the time of Jesus, when a tree produced from one of its seeds provided wood for his cross. Once again, God offers new life through the cross of Jesus, his Son, and invites the human family to return to Paradise. Here is a story that may help us understand that, in spite of appearances, the cross of Jesus brings life and not death. Easter means that we believe after all our “Good Fridays”, Easter Sunday will come!
The Easter Tree
In Paradise where life began a wondrous tree grew tall, that stretched its arms to the tiniest bird, and gave God’s gifts to all. And Adam and Eve in the evening shade together sang under the tree.
God sang along in their merry song, a song so light and free. But then one day a serpent came and the beautiful garden grew cold. The tiny birds flew far away and songs were no longer told.
The tree was cased in fiercesome ice, and cried to God on high: “O God, let me shelter your creatures again, let them sing in the evening sky.”
So an angel of God took a seed from the tree and gave it to Adam and Eve. “Take this seed from the garden tree, plant it and always believe. A tree one day shall open its arms to tiny birds again, and all the world shall sing for joy; and children shall sing their Amen.”
Before the flood, Noah planted the seed; from its branches he built the ark. He built it so strong all the animals came, to float on the flood mark. When the waters went down they blessed the tree, and God who showed them a way, And a child took a seed from the saving tree, to plant it another day.
When Jesus was born, Mary planted the seed on a hill near Bethlehem. “God’s peace, God’s peace,” the angels sang, “God’s peace is coming again.” On that day a tiny Child crushed the serpent’s head, and earth grew warm in the winter’s cold, around his manger bed.
They looked for a tree when Jesus died and they found it on Bethlehem’s hill. “Alleluia, Alleluia,” everything sang as he rose from the dead by God’s will. And the Easter tree rejoiced in song, the tiny birds as well. It bore a prize beyond all else, beyond what words could tell.
We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you. because by the tree of the cross you have saved the world!
These are the realities of faith, which we can base our lives and our personal spirituality on. And this Jubilee Year of Mercy, is the opportunity to allow these realities to take hold of our lives perhaps more than they have in the past: The first reality is to really believe in God’s endless mercy for each one of us; and the second reality is to understand – in a healthy way – our own misery and sinfulness. We should not go through life, thinking that we have to earn or merit God’s love or mercy, but we should build our life on the foundation of the merciful love of God and that our own misery and our own inner poverty – if we except them, understand them correctly, and say “yes” to them – will be the way that we can draw closer to God in our lives. If we recognise our own sinfulness and weakness, and if we are able to see our “yes” to our own sinfulness and weakness, then we actually put God in the position that he “cannot do anything” else but pour out his love and his mercy into our lives. When a child comes before the loving Father, and simply says I am weak, I am sinful, I am helpless, I can’t do on my own – then God, our merciful Father, can do nothing else but give us his mercy and his healing love in abundance. It is as if, the child becomes in effect “all-powerful” and God has simply “no resistance”. He can only respond to our acknowledged weaknesses with love. He can’t do anything else. He doesn’t want to to do anything else. It is so important for us, over and over again, to rediscover what it means that we are all children of one merciful Father. And this Father – who is “an eternal exchange of love” – wishes to draw us into the most intimate communion with him, and share his Divine life with us, so that each one of us can truly say that we are children of God. How little do we really know about this great truths of our faith! How little do the people of today take in this truth, that could change everything in people’s lives! We are all sons and daughters of God. This is our core identity! Does a child not go immediately to its father or mother when it has a hurt, or a need, or a worry and fear? And when the child comes and asks for help from the parents, does not the love of the parents find a new awakening at the request of their own children? It is even more so with our merciful Father in heaven – he wants to give himself completely to us in love, because he is love itself. Because he is love in his essence he wants to share himself and give himself completely. God is an eternal “exchange of love”. True love always goes beyond itself and wishes to grow and extend its borders. God wants to love us and he wants to unite himself to those who try and love others in the way that he loves. That’s why we can speak about this unusual and original “weakness” of God: he cannot withstand the moment when you and I recognise our own weaknesses and our own sinfulness and acknowledge them wholeheartedly. In the moment that we do this, he can do nothing else but pour his love and his boundless mercy into our hearts.
How do we imagine God? If someone asked us to describe God, or describe God’s most basic characteristics, what would we say? Would we, for example, immediately declare that God for each one of us is a Father of love, a Father of mercy. Would we say, for example, that God’s greatest motivation for everything that he does in the world and in our lives has always been, and will always be his unconditional and boundless love for us. The universal law of love is the endless love of God. This is the reason for all reasons. At the end of the day, everything that God does and everything he intends for our lives is based on the power of love. Everything that comes from him, comes because of love, through love and for love. If this is true, if love is the ultimate motivation for God, then we have to see it as our special mission and our special task to also make this universal law of love into our ultimate motivation – not only in our personal lives, but in our spiritual growth and development. The Church has always believed that God is a merciful Father; the Church has always proclaimed that mercy and the love of God, in one way and another, is God’s most essential attribute. What perhaps is “new” in this Year of Mercy – or better said, what perhaps is revealing itself in a more powerful way – is how unconditional this merciful love is, and how boundless and all-embracing this mercy of God for each one of us is. Perhaps we have believed in God’s love for us up till now, but we’ve also combined it very strongly with the reality of justice. This often brings about the feeling and the personal experience, that if we wish to experience and share the love of God in our own lives, then we have to earn or merit that love. We cannot earn God’s mercy – it is freely given to us even when we don’t deserve it and, if we are honest, we don’t deserve it most of the time. Of course, every day we have to get up and start again and try to realise the will of God for us and try our best to connect ourselves to God for that day. But we have to be careful that we don’t over-emphasise our human contribution in our relationship to God – in other words, if anything is going to happen, it all depends on me. This Year of Mercy, is trying to emphasise how God, our merciful Father, and his merciful love, is active and present in our lives – he makes the biggest contribution. God does not love us because we have been good or because we have got everything right with not one, single mistake; he loves simply because he is our Father – he has always loved us and he will always love us, no matter what. He wants his merciful love to flow unhindered through our lives and our actions; he wants us to accept and say confidently our “yes” to our limitations, our sinfulness and our weaknesses, and to really believe that our inner poverty is not just an obstacle to getting close to God, but our weaknesses and our sinfulness can actually be the “open door” to sharing God’s merciful love more, and being able to receive his merciful love more. It is so important, in our own spirituality and in our daily lives to recognise and to remember and also to rediscover the universal law of love. What is the universal law of love? Everything that God does, everything that he says, everything that he allows to happen in our lives has a motivation and a reason. And if we search for this reason, if we look for this reason – for example, why did he create the world, why is the world a place where he wants to be present, why does he guide us, why does he want to save us? Why did he send Jesus Christ to be your Saviour and die to set us free? All these questions, and many more, all go back to the ultimate reason – the reason for all reasons – and that is because of love. That is God’s ultimate motivation, and that is why he allows certain things to happen in the way that they happen, he does it all out of love. That is, in essence, the universal law of love. It is the answer to the question what is the ultimate motivation of God – what is the reason for God’s actions and activity and presence in this world. And the answer is because he loves us – he’s only motivated by love, and his love inspires everything else that is in God – for example, his mercy, his justice, his wisdom, etc. This applies, not only in the great events or in the great questions of creation and the world around us. The universal law of love also applies to us personally. Why do we experience what we experience? Why does God allow this to happen in our lives? Why is our family going through this? At the end of the day, God’s motivation in our own personal lives is also the universal law of love. The universal law of love includes God’s endless love to each one of us, but also includes our response of love to God. These are the two essential sides of the universal law of love. It includes God’s Divine love and also includes our human love. God says to each one of us: “Everything because of love, everything through love, and everything for love”. And each one of us should also say in response to God: “I will try every day to do everything because of love, everything through love, and everything for love”. This has deep consequences would each one of us. This has implications for our spiritual life and our daily living. It basically means, that we too should try every day to do everything out of love. We are also called, through our Baptism and through the fact that we are sons and daughters of God, that we apply the universal law of love in our own lives. And when we do this the powerful stream of love that comes from God originally and flows through the hearts of every single human person and our world, will flow even more and will flow unhindered. That’s why we can speak about the massive stream of life and love that comes from God and then flows through every human heart, uniting as altogether and bringing us all in communion with each other – and then ultimately returning to its source, to God, our merciful Father.
We have the opportunity, in this Year of Mercy, to make the message of the merciful love of God, the central truths of our spiritual lives. It means rediscovering who God is according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and trying every day to live out this truth, deepen our knowledge of mercy and give mercy to the people around us in a much more intentional way. There are mainly two “closed doors” that always arises when we try to draw draw close to God as a merciful Father – here are the two: Firstly, when we can’t really believe that God loves us personally, and secondly, when we can’t find God in personal suffering. Let’s look at the first “closed door”: The mercy of God only really works in a transformative way, when people feel and experience that God looks on them and accepts and cares for them. We are dealing here with one of the central problems of faith, do we really believe that God loves each one of us personally? For so many–even religious people–God is seen and experienced as a too distant figure; he is not vibrant enough, he remains vague, and becomes more and more not a real person, but an idea. Everyone needs to find their “anchor” in God, otherwise our personality is not rooted anywhere, or completely secure anywhere. This “anchor” consists in the moment when the individual feels and experiences themselves loved by God, and allows this one experience to become the greatest truth of their personal life and faith. Do we feel that we are personally loved by God – even when we sin, even when we are weak and limited? The second “closed door” to people recognizing God as a loving Father is the experience of personal suffering. Suffering belongs to human life; suffering is part of all of our lives. It is not within our power or ability to avoid suffering, and even if we should try, it would mean that we are always running away from something, and suffering – sooner or later – will eventually catch up with us anyway. Every person, including the most spiritual or religious, has to discover the means to deal with suffering in their own lives. How often do we make the experience, that we suddenly become sick or something serious happens to us, or someone you love is sick, or something unexpected has happened to the children. Whatever it is, we often ask ourselves the question: “What have I done wrong? What I done to deserve this?” Here we have a basic attitude to God that actually closes the door to him. It is the attitude that if God sends us something that is difficult, i.e. a cross, a challenge or suffering, then this must be some kind of punishment. We would never consider, in the first instance, that this is an act of love, or an act of mercy. It is practically always in our first thoughts that suffering is God’s punishment on us.We start to retrain our minds and our hearts, when we teach ourselves how to discover the merciful love of God even in the experience of suffering. This means that we don’t see him, first of all, as the “just God”, or the “vengeful God” who punishes us by sending us crosses and suffering. Jesus Christ revealed God to be a merciful Father who will do anything and open every door to win our hearts and conquer us through love. At the end of the day, to discover the merciful love of God and suffering, we have to persevere with God, and we have to be willing to struggle with God – even fight with him if that is what it takes. The experience of suffering can make us feel that God has abandoned us entirely, or that he doesn’t love us any more. We become vulnerable and we begin to doubt many truths of our faith. Suffering will always demand from us a “leap of faith”, or “a leap into the dark” – but this leap of faith actually brings about a deep experience of God’s love and mercy. These two “closed doors” which can become more and more prominent in our modern life – the lack of faith that we are really loved by God, and the experience of suffering – have to be taken seriously in our journey to rediscover the merciful Father.
Pope Francis has declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy. This is an opportunity for us to rediscover the mercy of a loving Father-God. The Holy Father is inviting each of us to make mercy a focal point of our spirituality and our lives. Are we open for mercy? Have we been the hands and feet of God, the living embodiment of his mercy to those around us? Pope Francis has called for this special Year of Mercy because he wants us to connect on a personal level with the merciful Father in our own lives. The Holy Father says in his new book “The Name of God is Mercy”: “The message of Jesus is mercy. For me, and I say this with humility, it is the Lord’s strongest message.” The Year of Mercy, is an opportunity to rediscover who God is – the image of God that Jesus brought home to us. We have the opportunity, to opening wide our horizons about how we see our loving “Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:45). Now is the time, to rediscover God as a loving father, who knows us, cares for us and will always be faithful to us, no matter what. At the same time as we search for this new image of God that truly liberates us and fills us with confidence and inner peace, the media confront us constantly with present-day discussions and news about human rights, the rights and wrongs of abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, the importance of gender, how do we care for the elderly, the vulnerable or the disabled in our society. In all these questions, however individual they are and unique they are, there is always the one question in the background: “What is human dignity, and on what is human dignity based?” For us, as Christians, the Year of Mercy also poses other challenges, and invites us also to open our horizons, and try and see the world around us, the people around us and ourselves in a new and more accurate light. For instance, for many believers, it is very hard today to understand, acknowledge, and except our own limitations, weaknesses and sinfulness. In our personal spiritual lives, we too have challenging questions: “Is there someone who knows me inside out, is there someone who knows my name, who loves me, accepts me and is always willing to forgive me when I come to him? And if I discover this “Someone”, can a draw close to this person with no “masks”, acknowledging and fully accepting my weaknesses and my sins? For all these reasons, taking seriously the background of the challenges of today, it is more than worthwhile to let this Year of Mercy become the “open door” to rediscover for ourselves the Christian message of the mercy of God in our own lives. If we only consider the deepest needs of the present-day human soul, then the truths about God’s mercy and what his mercy can mean for us is the definitive answer to so many burning questions and hopes of our times. In answer to the question: Why is humanity so in need of mercy, Pope Francis writes in his book: “Because humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium. Relativism wounds people too: all things seem equal, all things appear the same. Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Pius XII, more than half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin. Today we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven.”