Monday, March 16, 2015

Overcoming Obstacles to Divine Mercy

It's almost axiomatic: No one is perfect.  And, as we like to say in my family, everyone needs a fresh start from time to time.
However, when Jesus reveals his Father as our merciful Father, people of all stripes rush to condemn him, crying out "Crucify him, crucify him!"  The Divine Mercy which we claim to need somehow seems threatening and even repulsive.  So what prevents us from accepting the gift of God's love? 

There seem to be at least four main attitudes designed to mire us in our present state:
  1. "I am more than worthy."  Welcome to the world of the Pharisees, past and present-day.  Our relationship with God is purely transactional:  Rules are made and followed in order to control the god of my making.  If we play the game well, then our heavenly business partner owes us goods and services accordingly.  We don't need any gifts--let alone the merciful work of a Savior--because we have pulled ourselves up by our proverbial bootstraps.
  2. "I am too unworthy."  Take a look at the inverted pride of the Pharisees:  Our sins are so much bigger than the finite and ultimately impotent god whom we've concocted that we are irredeemable.  We have cashed in too many chips too many times, and the goodness of the feeble heavenly helper cannot match our depravity.  Divine Mercy is circumscribed within the limits of our own making; the rules are the rules, after all, and we've broken them to the point where they are un-fixable.  And so are we.
  3. "I feel fine."  Get a load of the "what matters in life is trying to be a good person" mindset:  What is most important here is our artificially inflated self-esteem.  As long as we feel like we're doing our best, what more could our little pet god want from us?   The measure of love is not to love without measure, as the saying goes, but to decide how much we feel like doing.  Whether or not we do it is irrelevant.  We ask for no help and need no divine assistance because we are trapped in the warm fuzzy web we've woven for ourselves.
  4. "I am all good."  Watch the whiplash of the subjective self when it starts striving:  When spiritual seekers have ventured beyond mere rules and worldly pleasures, we search for higher levels of self-exaltation.  We long for a level of wisdom and insight so as to comprehend all of life's mysteries.  What matters most is to become one with, and equal to, any ultimate spiritual realities.  The fullness of life is found within us, so there's no need for any offer of salvation.  Why would we want to be saved from our Selves?

On the contrary to assumptions made by these tempting mindsets, Divine Mercy is the gift of an undeserved and unmerited and unattainable grace.  It delivers an un-fabricated fresh start and starts a chain-reaction whereby we become instruments of mercy toward others.  Not because they deserve it or have earned it, but because the deepest truth of their identity calls for it: Human beings have been created for a destiny which exceeds our grasp. 

"Mercy" has been one of the overarching themes of Pope Francis' two years in the papacy, so his recent surprise announcement of a Jubilee Year of Mercy should not really be shocking.  (It will begin on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, 12/8/15, and run through the feast of Christ the King, 11/20/16; more to come in the months ahead.)

The question of this Jubilee Year, like the question of every celebration of Christ's paschal mystery, is whether we will allow our favored obstacles to block the flow of Divine Mercy, or whether we will humble ourselves and let God be God.

After all, "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn 3:16), and the Son so loved the world that he gave his life.  Isn't the only appropriate response that we make a total and grateful gift of our life?