Sleeping in Mercy

“Calming the Storm” by Maria Jesus Fernández.

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.

13 comments on “Sleeping in Mercy

  1. Jennifer says:

    “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.” Exactly! When this perfectionist worm finally got this into her wormy head – or more accurately into her heart – it was a huge release of pressure and frustration. I think the reason so many of us have perfectionist desires is because they are God-given in that we are to desire to be perfected and to flee sin, but that in this broken world this desire too has been corrupted so that we mistakenly think the path to perfection is something we do to and for ourselves (whereby we torture ourselves with our failures and shortcomings and perhaps judge others harshly for what we perceive as theirs) whereas you have beautifully pointed out that we are perfected, we are acted upon, like slabs of clay in the hands of a potter. Our act is submitting ourselves to being moulded. Our fiat. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understandings. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” Thank you for the reminder!

    • Isaiah 41:14 has always been one of my favorite Lenten readings in the Liturgy: “Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, you maggot Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. Maybe it’s also why I liked Lowly Worm so much when I was a kid (Richard Scarry)! 🙂 Thank you for your enriching reflection on these thoughts, as ever.

  2. n.o.s. says:

    “J” I’m having trouble picturing you as a worm , a slug maayybbee but a worm Nash. Jennifer thank you for your kind kind words and prayers. What a good worm you are.P.B.W.Y. the nos.

  3. Dismas Dancing says:

    I apologize ahead of time for the length of this reply!

    “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.” (post of 06302015)

    Good morning, dear Professor. In the early days of Rock and Roll, an artist began one of his more notorious songs with the line, “You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain…” The song went on from there with lots of innuendo (unnecessary to repeat herein), was quite popular, and led the artist to great fame and notoriety. I borrow the first line of that infamous song to say that, of late your posts have had similar effects on me, especially this one on mercy.

    Thus far, 2015 has been a tough year for our family. My bride unexpectedly lost her job in April, as did our son in Chicago. The following month, the younger of her two brothers died from a long, ugly battle with COPD. The elder of her brothers today lies very near death from cancer, news of which could come at any moment. One of her beloved aunts who is a perpetual victim of her son’s and grandson’s abuse, sinks ever more deeply into the horrible, dignity-crushing jaws of dementia. M, as I’ll call my wife, has made it her mission to ensure that her aunt knows that she is still loved by someone in the family, even if isn’t her own son and grandson—and wishes she could do more, simply out of love. My bride is one of the most generous and loving people I have ever known. I am quite blessed to have been her sidekick for 47 years.

    Per everything we know and believe as Christians and the vanity of planning anything on a foundation of human certainty, we have survived, if you will, fully understanding that any circumstance in our lives occurs for reasons designed in God’s Providential plan, not ours. We take seriously the lessons resident within the parable of the rich farmer whose life was demanded of him the very night he planned on expanding his hoard in worldly goods, failing to thank his God for the grand bounty. In spite of rough days or months, we thank our beneficent God for countless blessings enjoyed every day. Our entire family has come to know and firmly believe that absolutely nothing happens by accident, karma, luck, chance, serendipity, etc. That God, through His Son and the Holy Spirit, is really the one in control, not I.

    That leads me to your beautiful post that really got my attention. Last Friday, I flew up to Chicago to assist my son and his family move from there to Orlando in search of a new life away from a city in which they were miserable. They have no idea whatsoever what is to come; but they trust profoundly in God’s guiding Hand. (This past Easter Vigil, my son returned to Christ and His Church after 20 prodigal years. His six-year old daughter was baptized, and his mother-in-law was received into full communion with the Catholic Church. M and I travelled there for that wondrous occasion—what joy!) The final load out of household goods was done in a cold drizzle; annoying events continued to plague us all afternoon. Following a very late start, the trip itself was brutal.

    Sunday morning, after a decent night’s rest, we hit the road with prayers of both petition and thanksgiving and spoke candidly about so much. The experience was such a joy for both of us, father and son making big changes together; for we were able (without detailed specifics) to share much of the stuff that drove us to do the detestable things we have done in our lives. Through comparisons of the similarities of various events we have experienced, even though separated by 30 years of age and dispersed geographically, we grinned widely at the awesome immensity and generous quality of mercy that Jesus has constantly shown us both through His begging, coercing, cajoling, badgering us to come back to Him and simply let Him know that He is our love and reason for life—that we cannot possibly go on without Him.

    My son told of the astonishing joy at having a twenty pound weight instantly removed from his shoulders at his first confession and absolution after his lengthy absence from the Sacraments. He told of his Pastors’ gentle admonitions regarding his life in the eyes of Jesus. We shared countless narrations of the times we knew without doubt that “Jesus took the wheel,” driving us safely through death’s horrid desert to refreshment and renewal on the other side; how he calmed the worst of storms to save us from the death-dealing storms within our souls. And how within the last couple of months, in spite of the difficulties, His presence has encouraged us to remain patient (a tough act for us both), loving, kind, forgiving, and thankful even as we face what some will call tragic, unfortunate, unhappy, unlucky, etc. In one of the darkest nights of my own soul years ago, I pondered the end of my own faith and somehow reasoned that My Lord couldn’t possibly love me, horrible sinner that I had been, am, and will always be. In a meditation on the Anima Christi that I wrote many years later, I thought of Christ’s pitiable cry to His Father and cried out my own instead, “My God, My God, why have I abandoned You?” For indeed, I had.

    In His inestimable and compassionate mercy Our Lord has repeatedly picked both me and my son out of the corruption of our souls on innumerable occasions. After the awesome time together with my son, I came home to your post and it reminded me that throughout our conversations, the fundamental and underlying theme that He bathed us in for a couple of days was surely His Divine Mercy. “Oh! Happy Fault,” indeed. In that same light was created my all-time favorite prayer, Psalm 51: “Have mercy on me, God, (Miserere mei, Deus) in your kindness. In your compassion blot out my offense. O wash me more and more from my guilt and cleanse me from my sin. My offenses truly I know them; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done… my sacrifice, a contrite spirit. A humbled, contrite heart you will not spurn.” And no, He never shall!

    God be with you, brother Tom!


    • Jennifer says:

      Dear DD, If I may intrude on your conversation with Dr.T: you have described being awash in Divine Mercy exquisitely. Your family steadfastly leaning on Our Father in hope through your terrible year is surely a beautiful and powerful witness of His goodness and enduring love to those around you (and even those reading your words here) in ways you will never know until the grand reveal. I will lift you, your dear M, and your entire family up in prayer that you may continue to be blessed with droplets of heavenly merciful love as you persevere in these days of sorrow. M’s beautiful prayer and mission to make her Aunt know that she is loved will surely be realized, even if the obscuring veil of dementia obscures the evidence of the fruit of M’s efforts.

      With you in Christ,

    • So good to have your thoughts poured out here again, Dismas! You are missed, as you can see from JF and NOS. Your comments are full posts worthy of reflection, and I am so grateful you bless this Blog with them. They are your Confessions (as in Augustine’s Confessions). Peace and all good on you and your family you speak so lovingly of. Brother Tom

  4. LP says:

    Dr Tom

    Thank you for your ministry which inspires so many of us.

    I have long struggled with the concept of mercy, having been away from Church for nearly 30 years and living a sinful life. During my recent retreat, I spoke with the leader about forgiveness – both receiving and giving. I told him that I felt I never had a penance that was “sufficient” for my sins, that I deserved at least 40 lashes! Fr John paused, looked at me and said “Jesus has received those 40 lashes for you”. Copious tears fell… The second sorrowful mystery has always been difficult for me as I could not understand what seemed like gratuitous violence. Now I pray it with a new understanding and gratitude.

    with thanks to you for continued help on my pilgrim journey… LP

    • Jennifer says:

      Dear LP, I just want to say that your comment about the 40 lashes has stayed fresh in my mind all day. Thank you so much for sharing this profound truth in your reflection. God bless you in your journey!

  5. n.o.s. says:

    You are like the multitool I have on my side . What a blessing to so many people. I like D.D. have been so uplifted by your gift.I wish I were there to give a huge hug. Dearest D.D. & LP. ALthough not as poetic as Jennifer. I share her love for you and the the seven gifts of the HOLY SPIRIT and their fruits to lift you up and sustain you in your cross bearing.both of you humble me in your trust of our blessed trinity. Like Padre Pio I offer you my guardian angel whenever you are in great need. His name is Frank . Hugs and love to you both.

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