This post is part of our Ordinary Time, Extraordinary Mercy series, in which CatholicMom.com contributors will share their own experiences of living the Year of Mercy. Beginning at Pentecost and continuing through the summer, we’ll cover many aspects of the Works of Mercy in family life.
Years ago I wrote a paper on mercy, using the verse “It is mercy I desire, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6) as my starting point. Before I discuss what mercy isn’t I’d like to briefly say what it is: in Hebrew the word for mercy is “hesed” and translates into steadfast love, covenant and loving kindness. In this Year of Mercy we can certainly see steadfast love, covenant and loving kindness being poured forth on the people of God. But as in most situations, we fall short of sharing with others the mercy God so generously shares with us.
It might be because we have a distorted view of what mercy is and so looking at what it isn’t can be helpful. Mercy is not being a push-over, doormat, or enabler. It does not mean turning a blind eye to sin, your own or others; we are not asked to “let it go” at the expense of our values. Mercy isn’t walking around with rose colored glasses. Mercy isn’t taking what God offers and keeping it for ourselves.
In the Gospels, Jesus calls sinners to conversion not with a false mercy that says, “it’s okay if you keep sinning” but with an outpouring of love that reminds us that mercy is given to us so that we can change and stop sinning. If God only tabulated our wrongs and never extended his mercy, how would we change? How could we? Of course forgiveness is needed, but sins cannot be forgiven unless they are acknowledged. Giving mercy to those who think they have no need of it is like throwing pearls before swine. (Mt 7:6)
Would Jesus truly be offering mercy to those he encountered in the Gospels if he did not call them to conversion as well? We are not merciful to ourselves if we refuse to see out own sinfulness and failures. It is not merciful to allow those we love to live in sinfulness. And who loves us more than Jesus? That is why forgiveness and healing involves conversion and acceptance of mercy.
Mercy isn’t forgiveness without punishment or making amends. It isn’t something we can use to excuse ourselves from having true contrition and repentance for wrongdoings. Mercy is not painting over mold and then being surprised when the mold appears again!
Our desire, no, our need, for mercy from our Father is unending. And he gives it to us. Why? Because mercy is love. It is love so awesome that without it, we would not enter heaven.
In this Year of Mercy, how have you experienced God’s mercy?
Copyright 2016 Deanna Bartalini