What Place Does Mercy Have in Your Life?
I read Pope Francis’ book “The Name of God is Mercy” and I was blessed by this book. So I would like to share some of his deep thoughts concerning mercy with you. The Pope starts out by saying that mercy is God’s identity because He gives Himself to us, accepts us and promises to forgive if we repent. Since mercy is part of who God is, He remains faithful to us even when we are very unfaithful because God cannot deny himself. We are to be children of our merciful Father and follow in His forgiving footsteps.
When Pope Francis was asked what mercy means for himself personally, he answered that when he is having trouble forgiving a person’s sins he remembers his own sins. The text from Ezekiel 16 teaches us to feel shame, he says. And we learn to confess our sins when we are ashamed. He believes that the tragedy of our age is that it has lost its sense of sin and shame.
Pope Francis talks about the gift of confession. 1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, He (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Pope Francis states: “Sin is a wound: it needs to be treated, healed.” If we are not ashamed of our sins, we will not confess them to God and receive this gift of cleansing and healing. So that is why the gift of shame is so valuable to us. Scripture does not teach us that God extends His mercy when we are not sorry for our sin!
The Pope says that there were times in the past when he as a priest would be listening to the confessions of members of his church, and he would worry that he could not offer God’s forgiveness. A priest cannot forgive the sins of the one who is confessing unless that one says that he or she is sorry for their sin. The Pope said: “As a confessor, even when I found myself before a locked door (someone who may not be sorry for their sin) I have always tried to find a crack, just a tiny opening so that I can pry open that door and grant forgiveness and mercy.” The Pope adds: “When in doubt, decisions should be made in favor of the person being judged.”
Then the Pope tells the story of a priest who was listening to the confession of a young German soldier who was about to be sentenced to death by the French partisans. The soldier confesses his love of women and the many amorous adventures he had had. The young priest explains that he has to repent to obtain forgiveness and absolution. The soldier answers, “How can I repent? It was something that I enjoyed, and if I had the chance I would do it again, even now. How can I repent?
The priest who wants to absolve the soldier has a stroke of inspiration and asks, “But are you sorry that you are not sorry?” The young man answers impulsively, “Yes, I am sorry that I am not sorry.” In other words, he apologizes for not repenting. The door was opened just a crack, allowing absolution to come in… “
Then Pope Francis adds: “That story is a good example of the lengths to which God goes to enter the heart of man, to find that small opening that will permit him to grant grace. God does not want anyone to be lost. His mercy is infinitely greater than our sins, his medicine is infinitely stronger than our illnesses that He has to heal.”
Pope Francis talks about Peter and how he denies knowing his Lord Jesus three times the night when Jesus was taken prisoner before He was crucified. The next morning Peter weeps bitterly and feels terribly ashamed for denying his Lord. And yet, despite Peter’s sin, Jesus forgives and still asks Peter to “Tend my sheep” (John 21:16) Even though Peter betrayed Jesus, he was chosen. That example is encouraging for those who serve God and tend His sheep even though they are reclaimed sinners. It shows us God’s mercy for us since He forgives and chooses us to serve even after we have sinned. Can we not follow His example and extend mercy when people sin against us?
Pope Francis believes that God is not only a God of mercy but also a God of justice. But God’s mercy goes beyond His justice, the Pope proclaims. Because of original sin, our whole humanity is wounded. But the God of justice, our heavenly Father, didn’t judge us with only the strict rule of justice, He also added mercy to his justice and He went way beyond and sacrificed his Son to redeem us and heal our wound. The Catholic church celebrates the guilt of our forefathers (that original sin of Adam and Eve) as a “felix culpa”, which translated into English is the “happy fault”. The fault (our sin) is happy because it deserved such a redemption.
We most likely know the story of the Prodigal Son. (Luke 15:11-31) The younger son of two brothers asked his father for his half of the inheritance and then the son left home and went far away to the big city where he wasted all of his father’s money on bad living, liquor and wild women. Finally, when the younger son had no more money, in order to survive he was forced to take a job feeding hogs and he ate some of the food he fed the hogs. The young son hit bottom and was ashamed of his reckless living and decided to go back home to his father and ask if he could be one of his father’s servants. The boy felt that he did not deserve anything better after he had messed up his life and his fathers too.
Every day the boy had been gone the father, with a heavy heart, had looked down the long road hoping to see if perhaps his wayward son might be returning. How the father had missed his boy! And then one day the father saw a person coming down the long road. Could it be his son? The father’s heart was pounding! The father started running to the son when he was still a long way off.
The father was crying and breathless when he reached his son and he immediately threw his arms around his son and kissed him. “Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” The boy tried to say to his father. But the father didn’t hear a word. “Go bring a robe and sandals for my son and put rings on his fingers.” The father shouted to his servants. “Kill the fatted calf and we will throw a party tonight to celebrate my son’s homecoming!! My son was lost and now he is found! “
That night when the older son came home from working all day in his father’s fields, he wondered why he could hear music and partying coming from his father’s house. He asked one of the servants and learned that his younger no good brother had come home and his father was throwing a big celebration in his honor! The good older son was furious!
This faithful, hardworking older son refused to go in the house and join the party. He stayed outside fuming. The father went out and begged him to come in but the older son answered his father,” All these years I have been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fatted calf for him.”
The older son is right. He speaks the truth. But it seems that the truth isn’t enough. Being right still doesn’t bring the family back together. But at the same time the older son disqualifies himself. Pope Francis says that the good faithful older son disqualifies himself! Why is that? How can it be?
The older son in our Bible story represents the “law.” The father by law should have punished the sinful younger son. But the father’s love for the younger son represents “grace”. Only grace can bring the family back together.
The older son represents “justice.” The older son was legally right. His younger brother did not deserve to be received back home with a celebration. But the father’s love for the younger son represents “mercy”. Our broken families and our wounded world will not survive if “justice’ is the last word. But when “mercy” follows justice the miracle occurs! Mercy will make it happen every time!
The ideas and quotes in this blog were taken from Pope Francis’s book, “The Name of God is Mercy”.