Mercy: The beating heart of the Gospel

It was 13 March 2013 when Pope Francis became the 266th Pope of our Church. On accepting his designation as Supreme Pontiff, he commented, “I am a great sinner. Trusting in the mercy and patience of God, in suffering, I accept.”[1] The mercy and the patience of God are the transcendent foundations on which he wanted to build his trust on.

And rightly so! Our God is unique. He responds to our weakness by his patience. He answers to our sins with his forgiveness. He replies to our wretchedness with His mercy.  Christian life thus becomes a constant dialogue between our weakness and the patience of God, a relentless interchange between our constant sins and His limitless mercy.

When Jesus Christ met the Samaritan woman, a woman who had ‘seven husbands’, he enveloped her with his mercy. When the Pharisees brought to him a woman caught in the act of adultery, he did not condemn her; ‘miseria’ met ‘misericordia[2]to use the powerful expression of Saint Augustine. The thief on the cross was struck by demeanor of Jesus on the cross and he felt so much loved, that his daring request was “remember me when you are in your kingdom”.

In the book “The Church of Mercy”[3] authored by himself, Pope Francis expands on the parable of the Merciful Father, highlighting how the Father is full of affection for his son.   The son was always in his father’s heart, even though he had left him, even though he had squandered his whole inheritance, his freedom. The father, with patience, love, hope, and mercy had never for a second stopped thinking about him, and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach: his son has returned! And that is the joy of the father.”

 

 The Confidence Of A Child

God never grows tired of us. This is why we can tread ahead with confidence. To paraphrase Saint John of the Cross, The soul that walks in love is never weary and it does not weary the others!  This massive mercy of God creates in anyone who perceives this sensitivity, a trust that is limitless. Grace is always bigger than our sins.

The wonderful Carmelite Saint that is Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, wrote to her superior (who happened to be her elder sister), “Make it clear, Mother, that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence. I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water cast into a blazing fire!” And again,  ” “We can never have enough confidence in God who is so good, so powerful, so merciful.”

“Look at kids,” Saint Therese writes to her sister Celine, “they break things, they tear up paper, they fall even if they love their parents and their parents keep loving them all the same.” To her missionary she writes: “We do not want to fall, ever! How stupid we are!!” “Make it clear, Mother, that if I had committed all possible crimes, I would still have the same confidence. I would feel that this multitude of offenses would be like a drop of water cast into a blazing fire.” [4]

If the dad calls him, the child does not bother to clean himself before running to embrace him.

This is only viable attitude for a Christian: hope in Jesus’ mercy and trust in his forbearance. “Where sin has abounded, there grace has abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).  For God, we are not statistics; each one of us is unique. We are the most important entity to him. Even if we are big sinners, we are what is closest to his heart!

“O this mercy of God! I am told it is an ocean. Then I place on it four swift-sailing craft, with compass, and charts, and choice rigging, and skillful navigators, and I tell them to launch away, and discover for me the extent of this ocean. That craft puts out in one direction, and sails to the north; this to the south; this to the east; this to the west. They crowd on all their canvas, and sail ten thousand years, and one day come up the harbor of heaven; and I shout to them from the beach, “Have you found the shore?” and they answer: “No shore to God’s mercy.” Swift angels, dispatched from the throne, attempt to go across it. For a million years they fly and fly; but then come back and fold their wings at the foot of the throne, and cry: “No shore; no shore to God’s mercy![5]” Mercy is limitless… If only we understand this!

 

Immeasurable

We live in a world that tells us that we are ok only if we are more beautiful, skinnier or more athletic or have a more important job.  Only then we are acceptable and life will go our way. These voices are mistaken.

A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a serious offense twice and justice demanded death.  “But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”  “But your son does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon replied.  “Sir,” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.” “Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son!

Pope Francis wrote: “In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child” (Misericordiae Vultus, n. 6).

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) known as Doctor Angelicus, asks: Is mercy the greatest attribute of God?[6] And he answers in his typical scholarly way, that God is never self-seeking, but acts only and always with selfless generosity, pouring out good gifts out of His abundance on his creatures. Showing mercy is therefore proper to God in a special way – he concludes – for it manifests His infinite perfection, and His infinite abundance and generosity. Mercy is the greatest attribute of God.

It was when he was formally presenting the 2015-2016 extraordinary jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy, that Pope Francis defined mercy as “the beating heart of the Gospel.” “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. “May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.”[7]


[1] This was revealed by Monsignor Dario Edoardo Viganò, director of the Vatican Television Center (CTV).

[2] On the Gospel of John, XXXIII, 5
[3] The Church of Mercy, Loyola 2014.
[4] See excellent study of Paul Marie de la Croix OCD, St. Therese’s Life in the Carmel of Lisieux and the influence of her “little Way”,  https://carmelourladysdovecote.wordpress.com/2013/04/22/

carmelite-spirituality-by-fr-paul-marie-de-la-croix-ocd/     passim.

[5]  De Witt Talmage. Taken from http://biblehub.com/sermons/auth/talmage/boundless_mercy.htm

[6] ST II-II.30.1

[7] Misericordiae Vultus BULL OF INDICTION OF THE EXTRAORDINARY JUBILEE OF MERCY

(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.