13 September 2013

Excessive Mercy Overflows

St. John Chrysostom
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

Paul confesses to Timothy that he persecuted the Church “out of ignorance.” He describes himself as a blasphemer, “an arrogant man.” He could've added: zealot, ideologue, and murderer. He could've called himself a scourge, a curse. And no follower of the Way who knew anything at all about the infamous Saul of Tarsus would've disputed him. But rather than lengthening this litany of sin, Paul turns instead to the one thing, that single thing that brought him out of his arrogance. He writes, “I acted out of ignorance in my unbelief. . .but I have been mercifully treated.” Despite the blood on my hands; despite my hatred and my zealous persecution of Christ's church, God showed me mercy. And, perhaps even more incredibly, my brothers and sisters in Christ showed me mercy. Though they still remember, they always forgive. The strength of our love and wisdom—given by God and received in faith—is measured by the swiftness of our mercy, the joy we experience in releasing another from the debt of sin. But how can I see my way to forgive you your debt if my own debt obscures my vision, clouds my judgment? Before passing judgment on your neighbor's debt, check your own balance and make you sure you've measured with charity. 
The gift of mercy we give one another is possible only b/c we are given mercy to spare; that is, the mercy we receive from God is given in excess, in abundance, out of His excellence, and it's this surplus-nature of divine mercy that moves us to mete it out with abandon. If we find ourselves unable or unwilling to freely grant mercy to a sinner, then it's likely we ourselves are being held hostage by sin. Jesus says, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” Why? Probably b/c my wooden beam is preventing me from accepting God's forgiveness. Unless I am willing to name my sin, confess it, offer contrition, and do penance, that beam will obscure my vision and cloud my judgment. Sin speaks to the heart of a sinner. So, my beam recognizes your splinter and neither my beam nor your splinter will free us to receive mercy. The only way out is to turn to Christ for some Sin Surgery! Afterward, you and I will share some post-op discomfort but mercy is divine medicine and the Church a skillful nurse. 
Look to Paul as our example. He regrets his former life as a bloody persecutor of the Church. He laments his past to Timothy, freely acknowledging his arrogance, his ignorance, his unbelief. But the point of his letter is not self-flagellation. Yes, he's confessing, but he's confessing with the full knowledge that his sins have been forgiven through the grace of Christ Jesus. Forgiven, not forgotten. So the point of his confession then is to bear witness to God's mercy. He is testifying to the power of mercy to heal the most traumatic wounds, to bring peace out of conflict, to grant wisdom when all we really want is payback. Look what mercy—God's love and the Church's—did for Paul. He is humbled. He is enlightened. He is strengthen for his mission. He finds the courage he needs to face his enemies on the road, and he is built up as a traveling tabernacle of God's presence. Not only is he freed from the burdens of his past, he is also perfected for the future Christ's has given him. None of these is even remotely possible w/o mercy. If we hope to grow in holiness, to grow in wisdom, the first step is receiving—freely receiving—the mercy God offers us through Christ. Then, we become diffusers of mercy, strengthening one another, and giving thanks to God.

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1 comment:

  1. I liked this one - solid. Made me think. Really appreciated the final paragraph. Personal experience has shown me the wisdom contained within your words. "He is testifying to the power of mercy to heal the most traumatic wounds . . . ." This is why I encourage people to make use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation - it helps me to more fully embrace the concept of mercy, to move beyond an intellectual assent, to know the power of mercy, and to find within that knowledge what I need so as to do whatever it is God is asking of me.