Mercy. What is it? What does it mean to be merciful? These questions are especially pertinent during this jubilee year of Mercy which our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has called the Catholic world to celebrate. We have been called to be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful and to re-encounter the face of God’s mercy, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, in paragraph 1864, that there are no bounds to God’s mercy, with the exception of our own unwillingness to accept said mercy.¹ In other words, the only thing standing between us and God’s free gift of forgiveness and mercy is ourselves. Sounds like an easy fix, right? Try telling that to our ego and pride. A need for mercy presupposes wrongdoing. Indeed, it presupposes that we have sinned, and have been deficient in some area of our lives. Well, who WANTS to admit wrongdoing? Who wants to be honest enough with themselves to admit that they are wrong about something? There is a reason that pride sits atop of the list of deadly sins; only it can keep us from experiencing the power of God’s forgiveness. Besides that, there is always the nagging realization that you have to ask forgiveness for something that you have probably confessed several times before. Won’t God tire of my incessant failure? Pope Francis sums up our dilemma quite succinctly when he said “The Lord never tires of forgiving, it is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”²
In the Catholic Church, God’s mercy comes forth to meet us in a special way.
As a Southern Baptist, I experienced the reality of God’s forgiveness through spiritual unity with him in prayer. Now, as a Catholic, my experience of mercy has been amplified through Christ’s sacramental presence. In a special way, through the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), God’s mercy is communicated to the penitent through a physical encounter with another human being, the priest. Christians worldwide know intellectually that God is merciful; a cursory understanding of the Bible can teach you that. The sacrament of reconciliation, however, takes that intellectual assurance and puts legs on it! After one confesses his or her sins, the priest pronounces the absolution of sins. You actually hear someone tell you that your sins have been forgiven you:
“God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit. The penitent answers: Amen..”³
What better feeling is there than when someone you have wounded grants you forgiveness? I can only describe it as freeing. Jesus Christ, the son of God, the face of mercy, desires for you to experience His mercy, to know that you are loved, to be free from the prison of sin. Will you accept His gracious offer?
Peace be with you!
¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church. Part three: Life in Christ. Paragraph 1864.
² POPE FRANCIS. ANGELUS. Saint Peter’s Square. Sunday, 17 March 2013. http://m.vatican.va/content/francescomobile/en/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20130317.html
³ Rite for Reconciliation of Individual Penitents. Congregation for Divine Worship. Taken from EWTN.com. https://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWFORMA.HTM