The quality of mercy!
One knows what the moral law is, what revelation and reason dictates, but one nonetheless falls down again as if our DNA forces us to err repeatedly; as if we were programmed or wired to fail ethically again and again; as if some mysterious pre-moral force causes us to lose control again and again. Well, if your answer to this question above is yes, I must welcome you to the human condition. The nature of man is such that even with the best of intentions he inevitably errs! This repeated failure can be quite depressing to many, as well as the added temptation to conclude that the moral norm is too hard and therefore unrealistic and unattainable. The inevitable conclusion for many is that the moral law must therefore be wrong or needs watering down! Many souls, because of the inertia caused by this depressing condition, feel trapped and boxed in and eventually give up trying and go with the flow!
We have just finished a year dedicated to the consideration of the quality of mercy. Some who are always perfect think all this to be hype but many of us who struggle with our imperfections daily realise that in consideration of mercy to and from our neighbours, there is a strong element of personal liberation! You only forgive once and you move on or you live with the hate forever. You are forgiven by others and peace is restituted. Pope Francis has realised, underlined and shared with the world this wonderful gift of mercy and, now that Advent is upon us, we all ought to stop and consider how the application of this virtue to others and by others to us, can help change our lives and lead us to feel free from the shackles of our fallen nature. Of course for those of us who believe in a God, the quality of mercy takes on a particular meaning.
One of the fundamental gifts that the Church has given to the world is the revealed knowledge that there is a God who is not a monolithic structure as we are often wont to consider our gods who we construct in our own image, but a God existing beyond the confines of our imagination. This God composed not of one person, but of three completely different persons. How is it possible that three different persons are able to form one God? We see a vague image of the answer in daily life. There is a union of a husband and a wife in caring for their family. Two people with diverse personalities who confirm their will to each other so that there is only one outcome in the family. It seems that likewise, God is a community of persons in love whose wills are aligned so perfectly that it is in effect the same will, one God. An outcome of this union is that one of these persons in one God, who always existed together, takes on human form at a particular point in time, so that this existence, this being that has the same substance as God, also takes on the same substance as man. In effect, in order to help us understand better the quality of God’s mercy and love, one subsistent being called Jesus Christ, is in existence with two essences, two substances, two natures, each remaining distinct from the other like oil in water, in effect creating two wills in the same being, with the divine will preceding the human one. It is through this man that God shows his merciful nature completely. His mercy to women and men who repeatedly broke the moral law as we do today, who were victims of sexual predation or habit as we are today, who lied and cheated and cursed as we do today, was fully magnanimous. His mercy to widows and the poor and the everyday man knew no bounds. He showed us what mercy really does to a person by being permanently disposed to the contrite heart. He showed us that mercy set a person free from his own dark side! I have noticed when driving to work and back in our interminably clogged-up roads that, in effect, one of the best ways to ease the backlog of cars is to give way to other cars rather than try to nose yourself in. In so doing the clutter dissolves and disappears and one can move forward. It is the same with mercy!
Pope Francis believes that there is no sin in a contrite heart that is above this mercy of God. In fact to underline this, he has extended to every priest the right to impart forgiveness in confession even for the great evil of denying persons the right to life by procuring an abortion. There are of course other evils which are just as bad and that a man may commit! There are evils committed against the family and spouse, evils against fellow workers and neighbours, political evils, environmental evils and economic evils. The list is endless. It is good to keep in mind that as Christmas approaches we stop to consider these truths and learn the true quality of mercy which gently drops from heaven on the place beneath! It is only in mercy that real justice and reason find their ultimate fulfilment.