Saturday, December 26, 2015

An Invitation to Mercy

In reading the Bible, one finds that the salvation history of our forebears in faith, the ancient Jews, is a colorful one, replete with family drama, intrigue, dysfunction, and sin. Their relationship with God was an up-and-down one at best. They lived a cycle of fidelity-infidelity-repentance-renewal. The amazing constant in all their wanderings and returns was God's Divine Mercy.

Isn’t that our own story, as well? A cycle of fidelity-infidelity-repentance-renewal. That’s the genius of the Scriptures: they name reality for what it is. And they not only depict our reality, but they also point to the solution to humanity’s woes: the Redeemer, the one who brings us back home. Jesus Christ, the Divine Mercy of God, comes to save us from our sins. He redeems what was lost and restores us to right relationship with our Creator, and one another.

Pope Francis called for a Jubilee of Mercy, which began on December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, and is to to conclude on Christ the King, November 20, 2016. His invitation is for the Church to make a pilgrimage of sorts through this holy year, and to rediscover the mercy of God that we see portrayed so exquisitely in the parable of the Prodigal Son (cf. Luke 15:11-32).

With the intention of concentrating on this theme personally, I read a beautiful book titled, The Return of the Prodigal Son, a modern spiritual classic by the late Father Henri Nouwen. I recommend reading it at some point as you journey through the Holy Year of Mercy.

The book is a deep meditation on the parable that Jesus told in order to illustrate the wild and boundless love of His Father. Mercy is its central theme.

Following a prayerful study of Rembrandt’s painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, Father Nouwen learned some profound and startling truths about himself, and about God.

He wrote,
"For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow all the guidelines of the spiritual life--- pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures--- and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair. 
Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not 'How am I to find God?' but 'How am I to let myself be found by him?'"
As one who struggles with scrupulosity, I found this passage to be a powerful reminder that Christianity is a religion in which God seeks us out, rather than us having to try to seek him out. He reveals Himself to us in many ways that culminate in the ultimate act of love, the incarnation, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus the Christ. I don't have to kill myself trying to impress God with my efforts. I don't have to wear myself out trying to be lovable enough for the Father to notice me.

What is called for is not passivity, but an active opening of my heart to His love, a love which will reform me and complete the work begun at my baptism (hopefully, in spite of my best efforts to thwart His good work).

As I make my own pilgrimage through the Holy Year of Mercy, I hope to take this challenge to heart:

What do I need to let go of in my life that prevents me from allowing myself to be found and loved into fullness of life by God?