Friday, June 10, 2005

Trust in Mercy

Divine Mercy is our only hope for salvation. In a world in which "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), salvation can only come through God's forgiveness of our sins. The eternal benefits of Divine Mercy are perhaps nowhere more clearly (and at length) spelled out than in the writings of St Faustina.

It is not only the fact that God is merciful that is crucial, it is also our response to it. And that response, according to St Faustina, has to be trust. Jesus said to her: "The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me... I pour all the treasures of My graces into them" (Diary, 1578). And again: "Mankind will not have peace until it turns with trust to My mercy" (Diary, 300).

The Byzantine tradition has always known that, so we confidently ask for mercy, in our liturgical prayer and in the Jesus Prayer, dozens or even hundreds of times a day. But we always have to be conscious of what we are saying, because merely reciting "Lord, have mercy" is not the same as deeply trusting in his mercy.

One would think that all Christians would immediately see the immense value, both of God's mercy itself, and of our trust therein. But a strange thing has happened over the past few decades: people have lost the sense of sin and hence of the need for mercy. In his novel The Red Hat, Ralph McInerny writes: "...a generation of Catholics had been persuaded that the old prohibitions were negotiable. No matter that popes said the opposite and persisted in teaching what the Church had always taught, what Christ had taught. Nowadays Catholics could dissent from Church teaching, 'form their own consciences,' in the phrase. But Catholics who accepted such advice soon drifted away. The appeal of Christianity lay not in its endorsement of sinful behavior but in its offering of forgiveness of sins. If there were no sins, if hell were a product of the primitive imagination, if life beyond this one were open to question, what was the point of religion?"

God's offer of mercy is great only when we realize that sin can keep us forever out of heaven. But we must realize that, because it is the truth! Christianity (and human life itself) is insipid if reduced to the level of "I'm OK, you're OK." No, man is a sinner and God is love! Man has imprisoned and condemned himself and Jesus Christ can set him free!

Our trust in mercy begins with our awareness of our utter destitution without God, our total inability to save ourselves. One of the prayers in the Byzantine tradition expresses this most concisely: "Have mercy on us, O Lord, have mercy on us. Since we have no excuse for our sinfulness [or, at a loss for any defense], we can only offer You this prayer, O Master: Have mercy on us!"

Mercy is abundantly available for those who know they need it. We can come to the Eucharistic chalice and wash away our daily sins. He gives us a fresh start. All we have to do is trust in Him: not presuming upon his mercy, and hence feeling free to sin, for that would reflect a serious lack of genuine faith and love, but trusting that the Lord is always there, without fail, whenever we call on Him with our whole heart--no matter how grievous our sin.

Despair, discouragement, and self-hatred are enemies of the spiritual life. Trust in Divine Mercy clears them out of our souls and enables us to return immediately to loving and serving the Lord. He does not want us to wallow in our sins--or even in the memory of them--but rather, trusting absolutely in his mercy, to repent and live!