Yesterday was the Feast of Divine Mercy. It is a devotion of special significance to me. The Mercy of God has been the focal point of my spiritual life since it truly began.
At the services yesterday, the priest preached about God’s great Divine Mercy for us. But he also emphasized that it does not end with God. We are called to be merciful to the people in our lives. This includes not only those who are sorry for hurting us, but also the unrepentant. This, the priest acknowledged, was a tall order.
I have written before about the distinction between justice and mercy as well as the relationship between the two. And while both are good, mercy is the higher and better thing. The great religious thinkers and saints always said that if you are to make an error, you should err on the side of mercy.
To be clear, our calling must sometimes include acting with justice. You need justice in order for mercy to make any sense. As a parent (or in my case a teacher), bad behavior must be tempered with just punishments. If not, the child will have a malformed moral center. You see this in those people whose parents do not discipline them or teachers who do not hold their students accountable. In both of those cases, the children are less prepared to be strong, responsible adults. And this principle can be applied to our system of civil laws and punishments. It would be irrational to simply empty all of the prisons in the name of mercy.
But when the decision is unclear or where either mercy or justice would be an appropriate response, we are called to act with mercy. This is difficult for many reasons. We often have to swallow our pride, deny our anger, and not brood over injury. But above all, giving mercy over justice is an act of faith.
Justice gives a clear sense of control over a situation. When someone does wrong to us we can either punish them in justice or forgive them in mercy. By acting with justice, we use our own judgment and power to affect the other person to change them. This happens at the most basic level with the above example of misbehaving children. In a more adult situation, imagine a friend has hurt you by insulting your mother. We can retaliate by ignoring them, cutting them off, relating their offense to others, and all manner of socially acceptable punishments. (We could also retaliate in socially unacceptable ways, but let us leave that aside for now) “That will teach them,” we think. We hope that our actions cause them enough injury to give them pause. Maybe they will think twice about doing something like that again now that they have felt my wrath.
But when we act with mercy and forgive, we are placing the power of change somewhere else. When we act with justice, we hope to shape another person’s behavior. When we act with mercy, we trust that God will take care of it.
St. Faustina, the visionary who received the Divine Mercy revelations, taught us the mantra “Jesus, I trust in You.” There are many things to which this refers. For years, my focus has been on trusting that God’s forgiveness is greater than my sins. This is an important part of this message. But “Jesus, I trust in You,” goes beyond my relationship to God. It also includes my relationship to other people.
When I forgive, I am trusting that God will use this act of forgiveness to help change the person’s heart. Instead of relying on my own wisdom on how to reform a person, mercy places all of that squarely in God’s hands. In this, we give up control and trust that God will bring it to a good conclusion.
This is one of the reasons I have never closed the door on any relationship in my life. As I’m sure you have experienced, people in your life will hurt you. Some pull away and leave you. Some do things or say things that break your heart. (I am not speaking here about any kind of abusive situation. That requires a sharper focus than this article gives). In all these cases, I have never cut off a person from my life. Even if the relationship cools and there is great distance, both emotional and physical, I always try and reach out. Sometimes they respond back. Sometimes they do not. Either way, by offering forgiveness and mercy, I am trusting that God will bring His grace to their hearts. To my great joy, reconciliations have occurred. But for the others, I still live in hope.
When we give mercy, we may not see how it will have an effect. But that is where the trust comes in. I don’t need to see it in order to believe that mercy will lead to something greater and better. That is because mercy is an act of faith.
Copyright 2019, WL Grayson