I have been thinking a great deal about mercy these days. There is someone in my life who I am struggling to love authentically. In my mind, I have spoken words of mercy and from my lips it all sounds really great. But then the encounter comes and I am left in the dust by the reality of my resentment.
I found myself wanting to say to the person in a moment of reflection, I forgive you. But then, haven’t I already said that? Why the need to repeat the statement? The urge I have to mend this fence that I already believe mended might indeed be because the Lord is telling me it is still broken. What am I missing?
I had lunch with a priest friend today and we were speaking about the effects of sin. How when we sin we have the guilt and we have the punishment from that sin. As Catholics, when we go to confession, that guilt that has separated us from God is taken away. But the punishment remains. Hence purgatory is where we right our relationship with God. There has to be an effect. It makes sense right? When our kids do something wrong, we forgive them, but they are still grounded.
I am thinking that mercy might have the same two parts. We say we forgive but we may still hang on to some resentment. Our hearts long to reconnect, but our humanity struggles with the ability to let go. We were meant for unity with each other and with Our God. We have let, as Venerable Arch Bishop Fulton Sheen says, “Mercy be an emotion, not a virtue. ” Yes, I think that is it. I have let mercy be a thing I do to make me feel better without the well being of the other truly at the forefront of my mind. But mercy isn’t about me. It can’t be. Mercy comes from Our Father above. Mercy is the formation of my heart seeking to right myself with God and with the one whom I have offended or who has offended me. We must ask for it and strive for it in order to truly share it with others.
Colossians 3: 13 says “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
This thinking leads me to believe mercy requires forgiveness but it does not require renewed trust. To be merciful means that when we are offended, we are quick to forgive, but repeat offenders do not get off so easy with our hearts. Do they? God is around every corner, offering mercy throughout my day because I turn to Him and say, “Jesus, mercy ” or “Help me Lord, I just really messed that up.” And He does. Sometimes I imagine him shaking His head, getting so tired of my ridiculous attempts and failings. But I know that is not who He is. He is quick to forgive and slow to judgment. And so must we be.
Trust is earned, built up over time by respect and mutual understanding of each other’s ideas and goals. The challenge is to show mercy and true forgiveness for an offense – and continued offenses – even if the trust is absent.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, may we challenge ourselves to strive towards the virtue of being swiftly merciful and plead for our emotions to humbly follow.