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By Msgr. Charles Pope, April 19, 2020
In the afterglow of Divine Mercy Sunday it seems opportune to make a few observations about the glorious mercy of our Lord. As a prelude we ought to set aside some mistaken notions of mercy.
We live in times in which mercy, like so many other things, has become a detached concept in people’s minds, separated from the things that really help us to understand it. For indeed, mercy makes sense and is necessary because we are sinners in desperate shape. Yet many today think it unkind and unmerciful to speak of sin and to refer to people sinners. Many think that mercy is a declaration that God doesn’t really care about sin, or that sin is not a relevant concept. Too many conceive of mercy as God’s approval of what they are doing. But of course, if God did approve of everything we do, including our sin, there would be no need for mercy. Mercy exists and is glorious because God does not approve of our sin; he sees how it harms us and others and extends a merciful call to return to him.
One of the chief errors of our time is the proclamation of God’s mercy without any reference to repentance. But repentance is the key that unlocks the floodgates of mercy. It is through repentance that we come to see our sin and the harm it has caused us and others. Through repentance we hear God’s call to return to him and we come humbly before the Lord, admit our wrong-doing and in this way receive the beautiful gift of his mercy.
I wonder too if any of us can ever really know how much we need God’s mercy? It is too easy to think that it’s that other person over there who really needs it more than I. But this bespeaks a spiritual blindness wherein we fail to realize just how awful our true condition is. Consider something that the Lord said to Sister Faustina and, as you read this recall that she was a consecrated religious living in a monastery! The Lord said to Sr. Faustina:
You see what you are of yourself, but do not be frightened at this. If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. … But because you are such a great misery I have revealed to you the whole ocean of my mercy(Diary II. 718).
Wow, just wow!What does this say of us who live far more immersed daily in a fallen, sin-soaked world. We deeply underestimate our true condition. Our biggest sin is likely our unawareness of our sin.
And perhaps there is a mercy in this for us as the Lord says when he declares to her: If I were to reveal to you the whole misery that you are, you would die of terror. But, hopefully this realization of our blindness can be the beginning of a deeper and deeper gratitude for the glorious, wonderful, and awesome gift of God’s mercy. If you don’t know the bad news, the good news is no news. The bad news is, we are in terrible, desperate shape. Though there is goodness in us, there are also very deep drives and wounds of sin; so deep and sometimes subtle that we barely know they are there. But thanks be to God for his rich beautiful and costly mercy.
Yes, the Lord’s mercy for us cost him dearly. And, as a conclusion to this brief essay I would like to quote from a work by Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges (1863-1948) entitled What Jesus Saw From the Cross.
Jesus is He who “beholds the Depths,” and the greatest depth of all is the depth of moral evil. He feels himself weighed down beneath the sin of all the ages…This hideous burden saps his strength…
Jesus is the physician who heals our ills with his own pain, but the greatest pain of all is his diagnosis [his vision] of man’s sin. He has a power of vision denied to us; our infirmities close our eyes to the spectacle that meets his gaze. Jesus sees wickedness and misery in this world which is hidden from our sight. If each one of us could see all the agony and all the atrocities that fill the earth, who could live? If we could each see our own self face to face, who would dare look on himself?
Finally, multiply this suffering by another, a heart stricken by his children’s refusal to love him. (pp. 90-91)
Do we see how precious and how costly is the Divine Mercy of Jesus? Yes and no. Our vision is too poor and we could never endure what we would have to see. But Jesus looked on it all and felt its full weight. I say to you what I say to myself, “Get on your knees poor sinner and realize the glorious gift of Divine Mercy. Remember the physical and mental anguish it caused our Lord. Realize that your need for it is far greater than you could ever imagine and be grateful and astonished at the beautiful and costly gift of God’s perfect and divine mercy.