The real meaning of mercy is that it can look on failure and still see a future. —John Claypool
Catholic theologian Ronald Rolheiser has written…
Shortly after ordination, I found myself working in a church with a saintly old priest. He was over eighty, nearly blind, but widely sought out and respected, especially as a confessor. One night, alone with him, I asked him this question: “If you had your priesthood to live over again, would you do anything differently?” From a man so full of integrity, I had fully expected that there would be no regrets. So his answer surprised me. Yes, he did have a regret, a major one, he said: “If I had my priesthood to do over again, I would be easier on people the next time.”
I wouldn’t be so stingy with God’s mercy, with the sacraments, with forgiveness.
“You see what was drilled into me was the phrase: `The truth will set you free,’ and I believed that it was my responsibility to challenge people so as to protect something inside of them. That’s good. But I fear that I’ve been too hard on people. They have pain enough without me and the church laying further burdens on them. I should have risked God’s mercy more!”
I was struck by this because, less than a year before, as I took my final exams in the seminary, one of the priests who examined me, gave me this warning: “Be careful,” he said, “never let your feelings get in the way. Don’t be soft, that’s wrong. Remember, hard as it is, only the truth sets people free!” Sound advice, it would seem, for a young priest.
However, as the years of my ministry move towards middle-age, I feel more inclined to the old priest’s advice:
We need to risk God’s mercy more.
One of the truly startling insights that Jesus gave us is that the mercy of God cannot not go out to everyone.
For our part then, especially those of us who are parents, ministers, teachers, and elders, we must risk proclaiming the character of God’s mercy. We must not spend God’s mercy, as if it were ours to spend; dole out God’s forgiveness, as if it were a limited commodity; put conditions on God’s love, as if God were a petty tyrant or a political ideology; or cut off cut access to God, as if we were the keeper of the heavenly gates. We aren’t. If we tie God’s mercy to our own timidity and fear we limit it to the size of our own minds.
It is interesting to note in the gospels how the apostles, well-meaning of course, often tried to keep certain people away from Jesus as if they weren’t worthy, as if they were an affront to his holiness or would somehow stain his purity. So they tried to shoo away children, prostitutes, tax-collectors, known sinners, and the uninitiated of all kinds. Always Jesus overruled their attempts with words to this effect: “Let them come! I want them to come.”
Things haven’t changed. Always in the church, we, well-intentioned persons, for the same reasons as the apostles, keep trying to keep certain individuals and groups away from God’s mercy as expressed in word, sacrament, and community. Jesus handled things then; I suspect that he can handle them now.
God doesn’t want our protection. What God does want is for everyone to come to the unlimited waters of divine mercy.
“It’s enlightening to listen how folks react to current day sin. Some act like really bad sin has only recently arrived. ‘What’s this world coming to?’ is the oft rehearsed query. Read history…there is NOTHING new under the sun. Condemning sin is easy, but forgiving sin? Now there’s a challenge. I’d suggest we make history with grace and mercy.” —Randy Dean