December 10, 2015
‘Give Thanks to the Lord for He Is Good’ For His MERCY Endures Forever!
Last Tuesday, December 8, 2015, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis inaugurated a Year of Mercy in St. Peter’s Basilica. As he requested, I’ll do the same, with every other bishop in the world, this Sunday.
The Holy Father is a good teacher, so he realizes the effectiveness of emphasizing a theme from God’s revelation so we can understand it a bit better.
The theme of mercy is sure significant and timely. Biblical experts tell us it is the trait of God most often mentioned in Sacred Scripture: God is slow to anger and rich in mercy. These professors observe as well that it is the gift we most often ask from the Lord. We think, for instance, of the psalms, “Have mercy on me, O Lord!” or the plea of the blind beggar to Jesus, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Finally, it is a virtue Jesus expects from us, that we have mercy for others.
So, we want mercy from God; He wants us to treat one another with mercy. We especially ask mercy from the Lord when we have hurt Him by our sins; we ask mercy from another when we apologize for hurting them; and we show mercy to another when they ask pardon for harming us, and we forgive them.
What’s most important is to be in awe of God’s lavish mercy upon us. If I am gratefully and humbly aware that God is ever merciful to me, a sinner, I’m more likely to be merciful to others.
There are two looming problems with mercy. These obstacles are never on God’s side, but always on ours.
The first big obstacle to God’s mercy on our part is when we conclude our sins are so ugly, so nauseating, so wretched, that we can never receive God’s mercy.
Such people are miserable. They feel alienated from God, abandoned to wallow in guilt, scared of a vengeful God who has turned His back on them. They’re not mad at God. They figure they deserve God’s scorn, because their sin is so toxic.
We often call this despair: My sin is so bad I can never be forgiven.
Judas Iscariot had despair, remember? When he realized what he had done—sold and betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver—he figured he was so bad that he could never be forgiven. He took a rope and hanged himself.
Pope Francis often speaks to these poor people who believe they are doomed. Like Jesus, the Holy Father reminds them that God wants nothing more than to have mercy on them. It’s ours for the asking! All we do is admit our sin, tell God we’re sorry, ask His mercy, and tell Him that, with His help, we’ll try to change.
To show dramatically how much He wants to give us His mercy, God our Father sent His Son, Jesus, who died on the cross to erase all of our sins.
The second towering obstacle to God’s mercy is, I’m afraid, much more common today: most of us feel we do not need God’s mercy! I’m okay, you’re okay! Those other poor slobs may be sinners—in fact, we usually judge them as such—but I’m not. Mercy is a great idea for those unsophisticated, superstitious, unenlightened, guilt-ridden folks. But none for me, thanks. I have no sins…
This is the opposite of despair, and is called presumption. We take God’s mercy for granted, ignore it, or, most often, figure we don’t need it.
If Judas Iscariot personifies despair, the Pharisees represent presumption. They were so smug, so content, so self-righteous, that they dismissed Jesus and His invitation to receive God’s mercy.
Obviously, the Year of Mercy speaks to folks on both extremes. To those in despair, Pope Francis is hoarse in repeating the “good news” found literally on almost every page of the Bible, that God’s mercy is limitless, lavish, ours for the asking, and nobody, nowhere is exempt from it.
To those of us in presumption, the Holy Father is like St. John the Baptist, warning us about a comfort and self-congratulation that leads to complacency and spiritual lassitude.
In the healthy middle, between Judas and the Pharisees, is one like St. Peter. He sinned viciously, denying His Lord and best friend thrice when Jesus needed him most. Yet, he then wept bitterly, repented, and accepted the mercy he knew his master had come to bring.
There’s our model this Year of Mercy! St. Peter! Let’s accept the invitation of his successor, Pope Francis, and walk that road to salvation, avoiding the two ditches, despair and presumption, on either side!