An excerpt from a Lenten talk on mercy I gave this year:
I received a great grace back in 2012 in Confession during an Ignatian retreat. At the end of my confession the priest offered me some advice. Here’s how I summed it up later in my journal:
The greatest marvel of God’s mercy is that it allows us all at once to strive for a perfection we can never fully achieve in this life and not be tortured by shame or despair. Why? Because God is the God of the “happy fault.” The mercy of the God who calls us to “be perfect as he is perfect” makes our every fall into a new resurrection; our every sin a new reconciliation; our every alienation a new embrace; our every dissonant note the first note of a new movement in a divine symphony first intoned on the Cross. No need to rationalize my failings and sins away and make myself “self-righteous” in the process. In a world where God’s mercy is absent, people either live in a perpetual cycle of shame and guilt, hurt and anger, resentment and un-forgiveness, or they rationalize away their sins, dismantle the truth of God’s commandments and create a new moral order wherein mercy is unnecessary because all is permitted. But we who have faith in Jesus’ Cross have no problem facing our broken lives as broken, in need of repair.
God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him. God takes a special joy in drawing out unexpected good things from our sins and weaknesses and failures. That’s why He wanted His Son to be named Jesus, which means “God saves.” It’s always seemed to me that to show His exceeding joy God likes to make the redeemed goods much more spectacular than unredeemed ones. Don’t you think that the Resurrection of Jesus was just God’s irrepressible excitement that He had brought out of the ruins of the first creation something that far surpassed what He had made in the beginning?
Knowing this makes me bold! Not bold to sin, as Luther mistakenly thought, but bold to dare for perfection and holiness; to hope against hope every day that everything in my life, given over to Jesus, can be made perfect. Perfect in the way the Passion was perfected into the Resurrection.
Many have said a Christian can be defined as one who falls and gets up again and again. That’s good. But even better, the Christian is one who falls and allows himself to get picked up again. Picked up by God. Again and again. Jesus’ name could also be translated, “God picks up.” You’ve heard the phrase, “The sleep of the just.” It means the a good person sleeps well on account of their clean conscience. That’s good, and true. But I prefer, “The sleep of the pardoned.” I’d choose any day to sleep not on a self-made righteous bed — which is mostly a bed of nails — but on the peaceful ocean of God’s infinite mercy. Imagine yourself at night at rest on a stormy sea at once made calm at the voice of Jesus saying, “Quiet! Be still!”
Ever since then, I have slept consistently better.
Let me share with you Pope Francis’ thought on this:
God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. … It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. The Apostle Thomas understood this. Saint Bernard goes on to ask: But what can I count on? My own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love.