The Mercy of God is a mystery. Even for someone like me who has had it poured into my life for the last five years. I keep trying to figure out how exactly to explain it, but the truth is that I can’t. I lived a life that was so enslaved to sin and yet, here I sit as a Catholic who has a personal and loving relationship with God, the Creator of the Universe. How does anyone even begin to explain that? How can anyone explain the Mercy of God? How we walk into a confessional and admit our faults with contrition and resolve to sin no more with the HELP of God Himself. It is crazy and illogical because God loves us irrationally.
God is not a police officer who is just sitting in Heaven waiting for us to mess up in order to zap us into compliance. For most of my life, that is how I saw Him. I have known about sin since I was eight years old. I have known about Heaven, Hell, Jesus and angels since then too. But the one thing that I was not taught as a child was God’s infinite Mercy. I never heard about it in Protestant circles because it really had no place. Salvation was all dependent on Jesus. We would just answer an altar call, say a prayer and BAM! We had repented. There was no confession of our sins, our faults, and no words of absolution. I, for one, longed for those words even before I knew they existed; my heart ached to receive God’s mercy in a tangible way.
Even now, I think I would say that I have not been “taught” about God’s Mercy, I have just lived in it. Time and time again as I sit in line for Confession and examine my life, I have faith in God’s Mercy to forgive and heal me. I have yet to go to Confession and not feel the words of absolution cleanse my soul. I still walk out of there a sinner, but a sinner who no longer has sin on her soul and is a little bit more healed. A sinner who knows that it’s only by the help of God that I can avoid the near occasion of sin and when I fail to do that, I have a place to come back to and try again.
Even when I did start to read about the Mercy of God, I don’t think I fully realized just how much Mercy is involved in everyday living. I had no idea how merciful it is for God to allow us to suffer, to see Him in our crosses, or how much mercy it takes to be a wife and mother. Without mercy, we all just turn on each other. Without mercy we hold each other up to unrealistic expectations that end up leaving us disappointed with one another when we can’t meet them. And because we are human we can never meet the expectation of perfection, only God can. It takes His mercy to help us see that and us having mercy on those in our life to forgive them for not being Him.
Mercy is how we survive being mothers. Kids have this really crazy thing where they don’t really know how much we love them, cry for them, stay up worrying about them, and even the best ones who do know, still do not know. I have three sons, three step-sons, and a daughter. It is only by being merciful that I can be their mother. When I am fed up with the stink, arguments, and dirty rooms it is only by being merciful to them that they survive. I heard a saying that you cannot give something you don’t have, and I know that it is because God pours His mercy on me that I can give it to my kids when I really want to do the opposite. When one of my children doesn’t want to go to Mass, I have learned to do what God does with me when I refuse to do what He asks of me: sit down and listen. It does not matter that the reasons are not all good reasons, what matters is that I sat down and cared to hear them. If God, the Creator of the Universe, can sit in an Adoration chapel, waiting for me to visit Him, and love me while I vent about how hard my life is and give Him really stupid reasons about why I am a sinner, then guess what? I can do the same for my child. Does that mean that I approve of what they are saying? No, but it does mean that they know I am always there for them, to listen as they talk through their problems. 90% of the time they end up getting it all out and going to Mass, or doing whatever they were having issues with at first. Just like me, sometimes they just want to be heard.
During this Year of Mercy, let us take time to look around at how merciful people are to us, how much the Mercy of God has an effect on our lives, and how we can try to imitate God’s Mercy in our behavior towards others. If that is difficult, then maybe we can spend some time before the manger this Christmas and see the humility of God, who became a helpless newborn to live among us and save us. Maybe that will help us become humble enough to be merciful to ourselves and neighbors.