Monday, 17 August 2015
Reflection on the Mercy of God
Following my heart attack I reflected on God’s mercy, knowing it is upon His Mercy that I depend for salvation. I recalled my favourite statue in Lourdes, which is at the foot of the Stations of the Cross. It is the Angel of the Passion, who holds a cross along which is written ‘In Cruce Salus’: ‘in the cross is salvation’. I always reminded my pilgrims there that Salvation comes from the Cross and cannot be bought, earned or deserved.
The mercy of God is absolutely free, but it does not come cheap. It comes at the cost of Our Lord’s Precious Blood, and is obtainable by Confession with penance and amendment of life. Amendment does not mean perfection, but it does mean avoiding what we know to be wrong and doing what we know to be right. Faulted we will always be, and we will always have to rely upon God’s mercy, but that mercy is always available to him who seeks to amend his life.
My first reflection was on how the mercy of God is without limit: there can be no sin that is bigger than God; no sin that can be wider, deeper or in any way more extensive than God –how can anything be bigger than He who is without limit? There was a time when I was young that when I looked at the Crucifix I saw Christ dying for the good who sometimes fail and need mercy. But the Cross is not that. It is Christ dying for His enemies (Romans 5v8). One of my favourite bible verses is 1.Tim.1v15-17: ‘This is a faithful saying, and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; and I am the greatest of these. For this reason I obtained mercy: that in me Jesus Christ might show forth all patience, as a pattern to them which would hereafter have to believe in Him for life everlasting. To the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory forever and ever’. It is for sinners, enemies of grace, that God died. By loving Him for all He has done for us (as witnessed by our prayer, reception of the sacraments and charity to all) our life becomes ‘good’.
I then reflected on the fact that the very essence of God’s mercy is that it is totally, completely, undeserved. It is simply accepted by sorrow for sin and the effort to amend one’s life. We need not achieve perfection to be saved; only sincerely aiming at it. We lose hope when we think we have to be good enough for God, for we will always experience ourselves as missing the mark. We do not want to fall into presumption either -a kind of quietism that fails to seek good and avoid what is wrong on the basis of ‘God loves me as I am’. While it is true that God loves me as I am, God wants me to be more the person He created me to be, mercifully absolving us from our failures along the way. When our last moment comes we need only to be facing God: actively seeking goodness and accepting God’s forgiveness for our falls along the way. (I am not referring to the Fundamental Option idea; I am trying to say that we are actively seeking what we know to be good and avoiding what we know is wrong, for one grave sin will indeed eradicate grace from the soul).
I also reflected upon how we hang onto our sins in an unhealthy way, even when they are absolved and our life amended, which comes from a desire to be worthy of God or at least suitable for life with Him. When in pride we see ourselves as unsuitable, we morbidly hang on to the guilt of what we have done, which is spiritually destructive. It robs us of inner peace, and that is not God’s will for us. God wants us to repent and then rejoice in His mercy. We must let go of morbid guilt which is a trick of the enemy to induce us to lose hope. As St Therese indicates, even if we have committed every sin it is possible to commit, we should still have complete confidence in God. I try to convey this to penitents by saying the more sick the child is the more the predilection of the parent for that child, and is not God our Father? He is not simply a cold, logical monarch to be placated by obedience to His laws, but a Father who creates and redeems out of compassion and love; He is to be loved by the following of His laws as a means of making our character to be like His, not as a test of loyalty.
Finally I reflected upon the fact that if we are to receive mercy we must practice mercy: we can do this by remembering that very few of us are deliberately malicious and wicked; we are all much of a muchness with our own faults and weaknesses which plague us all. So we are to bear with one another; yes we point out areas of sin as areas for change and growth in holiness, but we have to remember that we are to hate the sin, never the sinner. I hate my own weaknesses far too much and have to be careful not to reject me along with them, for I have a tendency to be critical with folk when frustrated at their pace or failure to hear what I am say (ask ‘The Tie’!), and need to be more prayerful and more hard working than I am. But the good thing is that I am working on my faults; I am seeking to affirm folk when an opportunity arises (even when they dismiss it); I am praying more than ever; ensuring my needy folk get regular visits, and I never give a ‘man of the road’ (vagrant or hobo) a cup of tea and food at the door without also giving him my company as a sign of his being valued. Still, I am aware that “My wounds are foul and festering; the result of my own folly” (38v5); but with full confidence pray “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” (Lk.18v13); for while “our offences are too heavy for us, you, Lord, wipe them away” (Ps.65v3).