“We place limits on God’s mercy that he does not, whether because we want to see others receive justice or because we feel unworthy of his love.”
In the octave of Easter, the Church simultaneously celebrates the Divine Mercy novena. This wasn’t the idea of the Church, but the request of Jesus. “I desire that the First Sunday after Easter be the Feast of Mercy” (Diary 299). He asked that the feast be preceded by a novena that would grant great graces – “By this novena, I will grant every possible grace to souls” (Diary 796). The Feast of Divine Mercy was purposely linked to Good Friday – the day we call good precisely because of the mercy poured out on us that day – and Easter.
In the midst of this novena, the readings of Mass present to us one of the greatest stories of mercy in Scripture: the life of Peter. We saw his fall during the Passion accounts; this week we see his courageous homily and witness on Pentecost. At the end of the Gospel of John, the evangelist tells us the post-resurrection story of Jesus reconfirming Peter’s mission. Take time to read the stories of Peter’s denial (Luke 22:54-62) and Jesus’ forgiveness (John 21:15-19). This is mercy. Jesus looked at Peter with love that night in the courtyard of the high priest, ready to forgive him. And Peter accepted that love that morning on the Sea of Galilee.
Was Peter’s mission taken away from him because he denied Christ? On the contrary. Christ emphasized three times that Peter was to continue the mission he had been given. This experience probably made Peter a better Pope. It must have humbled him. He could now better minister to his brothers and sisters and help them with their repentance since he had received mercy himself. It is always good for a confessor and/or spiritual leader to have knowledge of the weakness of humanity and the mercy of God.
The life of a Christian means a life of metanoia or change. We must never be content to remain in our sins. But at the same time, we must never forget that God is always ready to forgive. At times, it may be difficult to accept God’s mercy. Maybe we have a hard time accepting God’s mercy for ourselves. Perhaps we feel we’ve done too much or strayed too far. Perhaps the consequences of sin still feel too raw and the wounds are still too fresh, and they prevent us from believe God is merciful. He is still here, waiting to welcome you back when you have the courage to come.
“You may object: ‘But I keep falling!’ The Lord knows this and he is always ready to raise you up. He does not want us to keep thinking about our failings; rather, he wants us to look to him. For when we fall, he sees children needing to be put back on their feet; in our failings he sees children in need of his merciful love.”Pope Francis
Or perhaps we see an enemy come back to God on his deathbed and we feel that same bitterness of the older brother of the prodigal son. Maybe we have temptations to be like Job, who didn’t want to preach to Nineveh because he didn’t want to see them spared.
Do we ever place limits on God’s mercy that he does not, whether because we want to see others receive justice or because we feel unworthy of his love?
God puts no limits on his mercy. We have no need to hide from him; we have no need to judge others for him. There is a stunning story about St. Faustina that illustrates this. One day she told Jesus that she had given him all she had. But Jesus resonded, “You have not offered me the thing is truly yours.” This surprised her. What had she kept from him? Jesus lovingly responded: “My daughter, give me your failings.” After retelling this story, Pope Francis reminded us:
“We too can ask ourselves: ‘Have I given my failings to the Lord? Have I let him see me fall so that he can raise me up?’ Or is there something I still keep inside me? A sin, a regret from the past, a wound that I have inside, a grudge against someone, an idea about a particular person… The Lord waits for us to offer him our failings so that he can help us experience his mercy.”Pope Francis, Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday
Stop placing limits on God’s mercy. Do not live in the past, or make others live in the past. The Lord has come to give you freedom, new life, and resurrection. Give him your failings, accept his mercy, and live.
Celebrate this novena of mercy, remembering that the consequence of sin is death – but on that day we call good, Christ defeated death. That Easter Sunday, he opened the way for us to follow him home.
Image credit: “At the Church of Peter’s Primacy, Sea of Galilee” © by Joan Watson