With the Jubilee Year of Mercy closing, I thought that it would be an appropriate time to reflect on what, if anything, I have learned about the Mercy of the Lord during this year. It turns out I learned a great deal. But it was not what I was expecting.
My year of mercy began with a great deal of family stress. I have written extensively here at New Evangelizers and on my blog about how anxiety and worry are the antithesis to faith. However, it comes as little surprise that I do not live up to the ideals that I preach. I struggled, sometimes daily, with severe worries. And as I wrote about in my reflection on the Year of Faith, these trials are opportunities to exercise my faith so that it may become real.
But what these worries also did for me was it provided an opportunity to reflect upon Our Lord’s mercy. At one point my wife and I were seriously worried about losing our home. By His grace, we have been able to make ends meet and remain where we are. But every day that we can wake up in this home we have made together, we are filled with gratitude that God was merciful enough to let us continue here. It becomes more and more apparent that we are living under the shelter of His mercy.
And this became all the more apparent with my spiritual journey.
I became gripped with an overwhelming sense of my own sin.
Somewhere around the end of March during Easter week, I became completely confronted with an interior image of myself that I found quite depraved. In The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien describes the moment the evil lord Sauron realizes that the ring of power is about to be destroyed in the fires of Mordor. Tolkien wrote that Sauron was hit in a flash the full realization of his folly and that his doom was upon him. And that is how I felt. Rightly or wrongly, I became completely consumed with the realization that what I am owed from God is utter ruin. If my life fell apart and I was completely destroyed, I could only answer “You are just O Lord.”
Perhaps I am being overly dramatic about it. But I can only express to you what I felt. Now, you might find this an odd reflection for the Year of Mercy. But now that I am standing here at the end, it feels utterly proper.
When I was in college I read the diary of St. Faustina Kowalska, the visionary who received the revelations of Jesus of the Divine Mercy. I remember picking up this book expecting to be enveloped in the warm, comforting embrace of gentle compassion. I was not prepared for what I read.
St. Faustina wrote about the spiritual torment she underwent in such harrowing detail that even recalling it now I am a bit uncomfortable. Faustina endured what many saints go through, something called the dark night of the soul. During this time, God removes all spiritual consolations so that the person must continue on without any kind of interior reward. Here a person is refined as in fire so that they are rid of all motivations except pure love. It is often during this time that those like Faustina are confronted with the depths of their sins and nearly buckle.
I do not mean to compare my experience with the depths of a saint like Faustina. But the reason I am bringing her up is that her journey to Divine Mercy was not a direct route from sinfulness to forgiveness. First, she needed to feel the true horror of her sin.
One of the problems I think that we all face is that we are too quick move on from our sinfulness because we do not take it as seriously. I am not talking about the self-destructive guilt that cripples the soul. I am referring to those faults we have that we sigh over, confess to a priest, and then commit again almost immediately. Fr. Larry Richards had a Protestant friend who once said to him, “You Catholics are always confessing, but you are never repenting.”
The reason why many addicts never get better is because they don’t really believe that they have a problem. Yes, their addiction isn’t good in their eyes, but it is manageable. And we often look at that way about our sin. No, we don’t like it, but we manage with it.
Unless we are confronted with the horror of our sin.
Once that happens, I can admit I have a problem. The wages of sin is death. Confronted with my own sins, I waited for the shoe to drop and destruction to fall upon me.
And this process helped me to understand the Mercy of our Lord all the more.
God wants us to experience His love and His mercy. But He does not want us to only experience it from the outside. He wants us to live it. He wants us to love as he loves and be merciful as He is merciful. But we need to know our sins for this to happen.
How can we appreciate the immensity of the Divine Mercy unless we first appreciate the immensity of the sin being forgiven? If we think that our offenses are simple faults that Our Lord should simply shrug at, then we will never be the people of love He calls us to be.
When Christ forgave the sinful woman, he said to the Pharisee who was there. “Whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47) The Pharisee did not have an unconditional love for his neighbor because he never experienced the unconditional forgiveness of God. The reason he never experienced this forgiveness is because he did not believe he had any enormous debt of sin to be forgiven. But the sinful woman knew what she deserved: she deserved scorn, punishment, and destruction.
And Jesus forgave her completely.
There was no sin of hers that was too great for His Mercy. And having experienced this forgiveness, she could not give this mercy others.
We cannot give what we do not have. That is why we feel the enormity of our sin. It is not to crush us. It is so that once we realize the enormity of our sin, we can then receive the overwhelming mercy God has for our sins. And if we have not received this enormous mercy, we cannot give it away. That is why St. Paul says of us: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10)
My sin was always great, I just never felt it as I did this year. And once having felt it, I could feel even more profoundly the infinite Mercy of God.
And that is what I learned from the Year of Mercy.
© W. L. Grayson, 2016