Merciful like the Father - St Mary’s College Commissioning of Leaders

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The Church this year is invited to consider the nature of mercy. Pope Francis has declared a Holy Year, a Holy Year of Mercy. He invites the Christian people to contemplate this quality – firstly as expressed in God himself and then as it finds expression in our Christian lives. The theme for the year is captured in the statement: Be merciful as your Father is merciful (see Luke 6:36).

What is mercy?

To understand mercy we should first consider how mercy finds a place in the heart of God. St John declared that God is love. Love is the defining attribute of God. The Sacred Scriptures also reveal that mercy is a key attribute of God.

God declared to Moses that He is a God “full of compassion and kindness, slow to anger, and rich in mercy and truth”. (Ex 34:6) The Gospels reveal the mercy of Jesus, Son of God, in his dealings with people, particularly the poor, the suffering and the outcasts. In St Luke’s Gospel there are seven separate parables speaking of the mercy of God.

The mercy of God finds its final and total expression when Jesus offered his own life for our salvation. Jesus was sent by the Father not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved (see John 3:16). God is a God who saves. This shows the depth of his mercy towards a sinful humanity. When we abandoned God, God did not abandon us.

There is another attribute of God that must be considered when we talk about mercy. God is also just. And justice finds its expression in judgement. We are told that we all must render an account of our lives before God. We will all stand before the judgement seat of God.

How can justice and mercy be reconciled? Justice gives us what is our due. Mercy mitigates justice when God goes beyond the demands of justice and forgives failure and fault.

Mercy comes into play when the heart is moved to recognise a person’s struggles, or frailties, or limitations. A merciful heart goes out to a person in their own impoverished conditions. Mercy does not remove justice, but goes beyond it. God sees into our hearts. He sees the state of our heart. He does not only judge on externals, but looks at the heart.

God is both just and merciful. The mercy of God is our great hope. We cannot justify ourselves before God. Nor can we can we lightly dismiss the seriousness of our sins, because God is just. He does not ignore our sins. He does not excuse us. But he wants to show mercy. Thus our attitude to God is most important. We human beings knowing our weaknesses, our fragility, our lack of courage, turn towards God and ask for his mercy: “look not at my faults – for they are many – but look at my heart, and have mercy on me”.

As the Lord was being crucified, there were two criminals being crucified with him. One abused Christ. The other asked for mercy. Jesus said to the one who asked for mercy, “Today you will be with me in paradise”. The Lord cannot but respond to a cry for mercy.  But the one who did not ask for mercy, was left with facing judgement.

There is judgement and there is mercy. Let us ask for mercy. That is why the Church constantly says, “Lord have mercy”. It is the basic cry of the Christian. We know we fail, we know we sin, we know we do things we regret. There is a way forward. The way forward is to ask for mercy. And mercy will be granted. God longs to grant mercy. Thus forgiveness is received, the healing of our heart takes place, and new hope and purpose floods in upon us. We are made new again.

We are not destined for failure. We are not required to carry our burdens all by ourselves. We are not constrained by our fragility. Nothing is too big to be outside the mercy of God. Whatever we may have done, we can always be forgiven. Life does not become a failure. God doesn’t want our life to disintegrate. We are destined for a fullness of life (see John 10:10). God wants this of us and willingly helps us to walk a path of life. God wants us to flourish as human beings and He is there to help us. Let Him help you. He waits. All we need to say is, “Lord, have mercy on me and come to my aid”.

God is a God of mercy and compassion. He waits to bestow mercy upon us. This year, this Year of Mercy, let us embrace this one simple prayer and pray it often: “Lord, have mercy”. Let us pray it with an awareness of our need for God’s mercy. Let us pray it with a heartfelt plea to rise above our shortcomings. Let us pray it so that as we receive mercy, we may become instruments of mercy to others.

This is the Year of Mercy and mercy awaits us all.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Monday, 22 February 2016