Review of mercy in the fourth quarter

“We each need forgiveness because we each make mistakes. For the majority of us, when we make mistakes or act selfishly, we become ashamed: ashamed by our flaws, our moments of weakness, our anger or our fears. We can get lost in our shame and we can hide behind our pride. It is natural that we avoid addressing the issues that cause us suffering, but by hiding these issues, it keeps us from finding the healing that comes with being forgiven, with laying our burdens at the feet of Jesus. Jesus enters our nature to help us become better. He sees our suffering, He knows our weakness, He knows our fears and He wants desperately to forgive us because He loves us completely. If you are seeking forgiveness or if you need help in overcoming your shortcomings, your addictions, or your obstacles, find out how to can seek God’s mercy.”

Thus the Archdiocese of Los Angeles invites people to encounter Divine Mercy through its special website, SeekMercy.org. It is a good resource to help us to grow in the riches of God’s mercy that He wants to share with us during this special jubilee year (and every year). Below the section on seeking God’s mercy (some of which was quoted in our first paragraph today), the website has an area about how to “give mercy,” where it describes the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, which we have reviewed here in the editorial column here this year.

“For us to give mercy,” the website notes, “we must first turn our hearts towards the other, we must then join them in their suffering and ultimately pour out the soothing oil of God’s love to heal them. Most importantly, to give mercy we must join in God’s sacrifice — sacrificing our time, our desires and our wants out of love for the other. If you would like to grow in your ability to give mercy in the coming year, commit yourself to doing the Works of Mercy starting with praying about the people in your life who need to receive your forgiveness.” 

The website then has a special section on forgiving other people. It quotes Sister Laura Gormley, S.S.L., who wrote, “Forgiveness is not only a simple act of will, but a process that takes time involving our memories and also our feelings. In response to Jesus’ command regarding offering our gift [at the altar and reconciling with our neighbor before doing so], perhaps the best we can do is to take the first step in making peace and then offer our gift.”

The Sister gives us hope, since forgiveness often seems so hard: “One of the factors that can make forgiveness so difficult is our misunderstandings regarding the nature of forgiveness. A common example of such confusion is the frequently repeated maxim, ‘forgive and forget.’ This is often taken as a Biblical teaching, whereas it is actually a line from Shakespeare’s play, King Lear. To forget a serious hurt is not possible.”

Another thing which makes our living out of what we say in the “Our Father” — “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us” — is that sometimes the person we need to forgive hasn’t repented or asked forgiveness of us. Sister Gormley explains, “A further obstacle to forgiveness is in thinking that to forgive one must be automatically reconciled with the offender. The ideal is that forgiveness would lead to Reconciliation, however, that may not always be possible, and in some circumstances, not even desirable. Instead, forgiveness on our part is the work we have to do with and for ourselves to be released from the anguish that binds us to the offender. This inner work does not depend on whether the offender acknowledges the offense, seeks Reconciliation, or is still alive or not. In all this work of forgiveness, we remember that we are unconditionally loved by God, as is the one who has hurt us. Trusting in this love we move forward, step-by-step, held in this merciful love, learning to forgive as we have been forgiven, hoping that, in time, some Reconciliation may be possible.”

In the Church sometimes our lack of mercy towards each other is a scandal, which makes the Gospel hard for non-Catholics or non-Christians to believe, since they see us not living it out. In an article on mercy (austindiocese.org/article/14298/lent-forgiving-others-god-forgives-us) on the Diocese of Austin website, Sister Margie Lavonis, C.S.C., remembered a conflict that she had with another Sister: “Here was a lot of friction and competition in our jobs. When she got a ministry that I felt called to do, it took me years to be able to face her. I would turn the other way when I saw her coming. Then one year during my annual retreat I wrote her a letter asking her to make peace with me and that I was sorry for anything I did to cause the tension. It was not easy, but it was one of the most freeing exercises in my life. Now we are not best friends, but we do talk with each other.”

Unfortunately, many of us (one hopes not most of us) have had similar experiences of conflict in Church situations. We know that we are sinners and are in need of God’s forgiveness, but sometimes it is rather hard to forgive that other person. As noted above, we don’t need to forget what happened or wait for the other person to finally say they’re sorry (sometimes that will never happen). However, for our own Spiritual health and for our own Salvation, we need to forgive. This act of mercy will actually help ourselves, too.

Let us ask God to help us to close out this Year of Mercy according to His plan for our lives, which always involves love and mercy, for ourselves and for others.


© 2018 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing   †   Fall River, Massachusetts