Mercy–the ultimate equalizer
‘When he comes home from work, he checks in, then ‘checks out’ (porn, Internet, TV, marijuana/alcohol)’
‘She’s always clamoring at me…clinging to me…wanting something of me…wanting me to change’
‘I feel like I’m single-parenting; I get no help at all’
‘We live like roommates, not husband and wife.’
‘God doesn’t want me to be unhappy. My marriage isn’t fulfilling. It’s time for a divorce.’
As Christians, we are called to be in the world but ‘not of it’. It is a difficult struggle as the world imposes its ‘vision’ upon us. Only through developing our own relationship with God, a real and true honest one, can we begin to see with His eyes and think with His mind.
God’s only commandment to us is to love one another as He has loved us. In other words, we must first allow Him to love us before we can have that unconditional love for others. Anything else is natural human love that even pagans can share. We cannot know how to love until we’ve first let God give us unconditional love.
God doesn’t want any of us to suffer, yet by His permissive will He leaves us to our free will. From our own lived experiences and of those around us, this results in people exercising their brokenness over one another. Sometimes we are wounded deeply by events in our past. However, most of our suffering is in our relating with and reacting to people in our lives today. We expect from them what they cannot give. Over time, the world’s disordered view of justice—that I deserve what I expect and the other person must change—takes root and grows in our mind. We let the love in our heart seep away.
Any psychotherapist or pastor worth his salt will tell you that in relational troubles, you must first stop thinking about how the other person must change. Every troubled relationship has two people dwelling on the other person. One cannot change the other, we can only change ourselves. The first step, then, is to self-monitor during the day to catch yourself at those thoughts in order to stop them. For most Christians, we spend much time talking at God but remain centered in our pain, which is different that actually dialoguing with God. Prayer is conversation, and conversation is dialogue.
No matter how tragic the act, God will only permit that which He can later turn into greater glory (2Cor 7:4). It is precisely in difficult situations that God is glorified if we desire God more than what we think we deserve from other people. A person can, of their own natural strength, learn to endure pain, tolerate others, suppress it all and wear a smile. They, however, cannot love. That only comes from God.
So in any difficult circumstances, God has permitted it that the people involved will to allow Him to heal them. This is sanctification and results in their soul being perfected “as God is perfect” (MT 5:48). Our soul becomes the likeness of Christ Himself; the apostolic church believed Christ imprinted His intellect and will upon the person’s soul. As the soul is healed, the Spirit of Jesus can now reside more fully in it, and more and more and more (Gal 2:20). It is a constant act of renewal. This is being sanctified in Christ Jesus and putting on the new man (Eph 4:22-24). It isn’t just an altar call or baptism, although baptism is the first step. It is the life lived thereafter in moment to moment metanoia (conversion). That is what Jesus exemplified for us.
When we dwell on our pain, we are indwelling. We need to turn to Christ asking to desire Him instead. Jesus Himself modeled this when reacting to Peter’s well-intended but unholy response. He said to Peter: “Get behind Me, Satan! For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Mk 8:33). Jesus was always focused on the Father. He rejected anything not of God, anything that would not center His attention upon the Father, and then He turned to the Father. In our spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we reject the thought in Christ’s name, say the Jesus prayer to turn to Him with a contrite heart, and ask for help!
Without this ongoing rejecting-then-surrendering, our faith remains intellectual. This surrendering is necessary for it to move from the head to the heart. We say we love Jesus, but it is only intent until we act. And by the nature of what love is—God Himself—we can’t love until we reject unloving thoughts or actions and surrender the moment to Him. If we do not, even if we are talking at God and using His name and Word, we remain clutching our pain and not surrendering it. We must truly surrender it to Him and to do so we must cut the chords that keep it tied to us. Those chords are our own wounds, the life experiences that cause us to default to feeling victimized, to self-protect, to expect from others what they cannot give and then crumble defeated when they respond poorly.
We examine our day to look for those times when we followed 1COR 13:1-7. In silent prayer, we talk to God about those moments we did the opposite of that scripture, and we begin to honestly voice the pains that underlie our behavior. That is the process of sanctification in a nutshell, revealed in scripture and demonstrate by 2000 years of saints.
The beauty of the Catholic church holding the full deposit of faith is that we have 2000 years of ‘family’ heritage to show us how to live it. Many were lopsided marriages, with one cruel spouse and the other suffering. We see in their lives how, by allowing God to perfect them into their true self, the power of God within them, their perfected nature, led to extreme holiness that spread grace throughout the region where they lived. At the least, it brought salvation to others, especially and often to those who abused them.
The best known example of this would be St. Augustine’s mother St. Monica. She was a good and dutiful Christian girl who became a teenage alcoholic. She would be sent to the wine cellar to fetch wine for the meal. The custom was to taste the wine to ensure it isn’t spoiled. She began to take slightly bigger sips until she was filling a glass of it each time. The maid servant caught her red-handed. From that time on, she took the discipline of not just abstaining from alcohol, but abstaining from all liquids between meals. If she trained her body to not have thirst, then she would not thirst for wine. She raised her two sons and daughter this way too.
She was married to Patricius, a pagan. Roman men liked Christian girls because they made good wives. As typical of the time, he was extremely abusive and alcoholic. However, Monica (not out of fear but out of desire to love as she had already been seeking to please Jesus) learned to develop a way to approach him softly and humbly so as to not raise his anger. So we see how his abusiveness became the instrument through which the Holy Spirit built in her unconditional love; this is demonstrated by true humility and other-centeredness. This is how Jesus behaved. It isn’t something a human being can just do on their own; God must be transforming their soul for them to grow this way.
It became noticeable that she didn’t carry the marks other women carried (for husbands in those times hit wives on a whim and the marks would be on their face). She began to teach other women how to approach their husbands in love and humility. Some accepted it, some rejected it just as some accepted Jesus and others tried to throw Him off a cliff. We see how true mercy extends itself to others. In modern times, her ‘work’ would be called a ministry.
The women who rejected her ways gossiped about her and eventually her mother-in-law, an unkind woman just like Patricius, addressed it with Monica. Monica’s humility was so overwhelming that the woman came to love Monica and then converted to Christian. This cannot happen by human effort. It can only happen because day by day, pain by pain, Monica surrendered to Jesus seeking to be able to love those around her. And He responded by filling her with Himself. This is what the scriptures teach us—surrender, not self-empowerment.
Patricius converted a year before he died. Augustine converted. His brother and sister followed his holy way. After a lifetime of suffering, she died with the blessing of having seen her prayers answered. She desired, and God gave her, a desire for their salvation deeper than her own ‘self-fulfillment’. Filled with God, their salvation was her fulfillment.
In our pain, we must ask God for the desire for the other person’s salvation, for the deepest, truest, holiest desire possible. It is from that desire that love grows because salvation and love are both God Himself. Mercy is an outcome of Love, and Justice an outcome of Mercy. The false notion of mercy in our world is one which holds us thinking we deserve mercy from the others in our life. True mercy is a gift and an action. By the action of giving it to others, we ourselves receive it. Mercy is an equalizer, a harmonizer, returning dignity to both the giver and receiver. Even for Christ it is reciprocal, for when we do good for one of these, we do so for Him (Mt 25:40). So, in that sense, God the Father benefits from our mercy because it glorifies Him by returning love to Him.
This is God’s design: for His Spirit to be extremely powerful in the most unholy of situations. I’ll leave you with the wisdom of John Paul II explaining mercy from his letter Dives in Misericordia. This Easter season, consider how this journey might be the catapult to change if this were your daily meditation. Please also continue to pray for our worldwide Church, Pope Francis and all of our clergy and religious.
“Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called “to practice mercy” towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. All the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of life, but the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly eloquent in this regard. Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor.
This authentically evangelical process is not just a spiritual transformation realized once and for all: it is a whole lifestyle, an essential and continuous characteristic of the Christian vocation. It consists in the constant discovery and persevering practice of love as a unifying and also elevating power despite all difficulties of a psychological or social nature: it is a question, in fact, of a merciful love which, by its essence, is a creative love. In reciprocal relationships between persons merciful love is never a unilateral act or process. Even in the cases in which everything would seem to indicate that only one party is giving and offering, and the other only receiving and taking (for example, in the case of a physician giving treatment, a teacher teaching, parents supporting and bringing up their children, a benefactor helping the needy), in reality the one who gives is always also a beneficiary. In any case, he too can easily find himself in the position of the one who receives, who obtains a benefit, who experiences merciful love; he too can find himself the object of mercy.
In this sense Christ crucified is for us the loftiest model, inspiration and encouragement. When we base ourselves on this disquieting model, we are able with all humility to show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown to Himself. On the basis of this model, we must also continually purify all our actions and all our intentions in which mercy is understood and practiced in a unilateral way, as a good done to others. An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment that we perform it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this bilateral and reciprocal quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the cross, nor are we yet sharing fully in the magnificent source of merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him. “
“Mercy that is truly Christian is also, in a certain sense, the most perfect incarnation of “equality” between people, and therefore also the most perfect incarnation of justice as well, insofar as justice aims at the same result in its own sphere. However, the equality brought by justice is limited to the realm of objective and extrinsic goods, while love and mercy bring it about that people meet one another in that value which is man himself, with the dignity that is proper to him. At the same time, “equality” of people through “patient and kind” love does not take away differences: the person who gives becomes more generous when he feels at the same time benefitted by the person accepting his gift; and vice versa, the person who accepts the gift with the awareness that, in accepting it, he too is doing good is in his own way serving the great cause of the dignity of the person; and this contributes to uniting people in a more profound manner.
Thus, mercy becomes an indispensable element for shaping mutual relationships between people, in a spirit of deepest respect for what is human, and in a spirit of mutual brotherhood. It is impossible to establish this bond between people, if they wish to regulate their mutual relationships solely according to the measure of justice. […] Consequently, merciful love is supremely indispensable between those who are closest to one another: between husbands and wives, between parents and children, between friends; and it is indispensable in education and in pastoral work.”
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam. 😊