I have begun regularly praying the Divine Mercy chaplet and I’m reading Sr. Faustina’s Diary, slowly, as it is among a pile of books by my bed.
When I read about Divine Mercy from Sr. Faustina, I get a totally different impression from that which I get from media reports of what Pope Francis means by mercy. That’s why it’s good to ignore the media reports and go directly to the Holy Father’s own words.
To be here in order to experience His love, however, is first of all the fruit of His grace. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, God never ceases to show the richness of His mercy throughout the ages. The transformation of the heart that leads us to confess our sins is “God’s gift”, it is “His work” (cf. Eph 2:8-10). To be touched with tenderness by His hand and shaped by His grace allows us, therefore, to approach the priest without fear for our sins, but with the certainty of being welcomed by him in the name of God, and understood notwithstanding our miseries. Coming out of the confessional, we will feel God’s strength, which restores life and returns the enthusiasm of faith.
The Gospel we have heard (cf. Lk 7:36-50) opens for us a path of hope and comfort. It is good that we should feel that same compassionate gaze of Jesus upon us, as when he perceived the sinful woman in the house of the Pharisee. In this passage two words return before us with great insistence: love andjudgment.
There is the love of the sinful woman, who humbles herself before the Lord; but first there is the merciful love of Jesus for her, which pushes her to approach. Her cry of repentance and joy washes the feet of the Master, and her hair dries them with gratitude; her kisses are pure expression of her affection; and the fragrant ointment poured out with abundance attests how precious He is to her eyes. This woman’s every gesture speaks of love and expresses her desire to have an unshakeable certainty in her life: that of being forgiven. And Jesus gives this assurance: welcoming her, He demonstrates God’s love for her, just for her! Love and forgiveness are simultaneous: God forgives her much, everything, because “she loved much” (Luke 7:47); and she adores Jesus because she feels that in Him there is mercy and not condemnation. Thanks to Jesus, God casts her many sins away behind Him, He remembers them no more (cf. Is 43:25). For her, a new season now begins; she is reborn in love, to a new life.
This woman has really met the Lord. In silence, she opened her heart to Him; in pain, she showed repentance for her sins; with her tears, she appealed to the goodness of God for forgiveness. For her, there will be no judgment except that which comes from God, and this is the judgment of mercy. The protagonist of this meeting is certainly the love that goes beyond justice.
Simon the Pharisee, on the contrary, cannot find the path of love. He stands firm upon the threshold of formality. He is not capable of taking the next step to go meet Jesus, who brings him salvation. Simon limited himself to inviting Jesus to dinner, but did not really welcome Him. In his thoughts, he invokes only justice, and in so doing, he errs. His judgment on the woman distances him from the truth and does not allow him even to understand who guest is. He stopped at the surface, he was not able to look to the heart. Before Jesus’ parable and the question of which a servant would love his master most, the Pharisee answered correctly, “The one, to whom the master forgave most.” And Jesus does not fail to make him observe: “Thou hast judged rightly. (Lk 7:43)” Only when the judgment of Simon is turned toward love: then is he in the right.
When I read Pope Francis’ words on mercy, I see a difference between those who say mercy is mere compassion, or a kind of pity that would enable us to continue going on as we are, but with comforting companions. Mercy is wrapped up with repentance. And it is God’s grace that enables us to repent. If you have not experienced God’s mercy and your need for forgiveness, can you even talk about mercy in a meaningful way? Here’s an excerpt of a homily Pope Francis gave at Casa Santa Marta Mar. 12 that I find inspiring (my emphases):
“This is the History of God. It’s as if God were weeping. And when Jesus looked at Jerusalem he too wept. Because in Jesus’ heart was this history where faithfulness had disappeared. We follow our will, but doing so our heart hardens and becomes of stone. And the Word of the Lord cannot penetrate. Thus the people get more and more distant. This is also the risk in our personal histories. Now, on this day of lent, we must ask ourselves: ‘do I listen to the voice of the Lord or do I do what I please?’”.
From heretics to Saints
The Gospel reading from Luke also offers an example of a “hardened heart”, deaf to the voice of God. In it, Jesus drives out a demon from a man and in return receives an accusation: “By the power of the prince of demons, you drive out demons. You are a demoniac sorcerer.” This – Pope Francis said – is the typical excuse of “lawmakers” who think life is regulated by laws promulgated by themselves.
“This has also happened in the history of the Church! Think of poor Joan of Arc: today she is a Saint! She was burnt at the stake because she was considered a heretic… the inquisitors, those who followed the rules, those Pharisees: they were far from the love of God. And closer in time to us think of the Blessed Antonio Rosmini: all of his writings were placed upon the Index. You could not read them; it was considered a sin to read them. Today he is a Blessed. In the History of God with his people the Lord sent forth the prophets to tell His people that He loved them. In the Church, the Lord sends forth the Saints. And it is the Saints who carry forward the life of the Church, not the powerful, not the hypocrites: the Saints”.
There is no middle way
And Pope Francis said that Saints “are those who are not afraid to let themselves be caressed by the mercy of God. That’s why the Saints are men and women who understand pain, suffering and human misery, and they accompany the people of God. They do not despise the people”:
“Jesus says: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me’. And there is no compromising. You are either on the path of love or on the path of hypocrisy. You either let yourself be loved by God’s mercy, or you do as you please according to your own heart that hardens days by day along this path. Whoever is not with me is against me: there is no third choice to be made. Either you are a saint or you take the other route. Whoever is not receptive loses out… No, it is worse: he wastes and wrecks. He is corrupt and he corrupts”.
This is a radical message. It is a call to sainthood. It is a call to everyone, regardless of where they are on the political or ideological or partisan spectrum to stop pointing their fingers at each other and to instead to recognize our own need for mercy, our own utter spiritual poverty and from there, to become ambassadors for Christ.
Some people have chosen to interpret his admonitions against Pharisees as a criticism of those who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass or who stress strongly the teachings of the Church on marriage and human sexuality. But there is also Phariseeism of the progressive side, from those who are interpreting a new set of laws and teachings, a new Magisterium as it were, and using their power to enforce it against those who are upholding what the Church has always taught.
Mercy. Mercy. Mercy. Divine Mercy. We all need it. It’s a grace, a gift from God.
As one who has been forgiven much, I know.
I hope in this Year of Mercy, the true message comes through.