Paschal Worton continues his thoughts on the Mercy of God
Jenny lived at the top of a high rise block of flats in a Plymouth estate. She lived with her budgies, and made wonderful Cornish Pasties for everyone in the block. I was on a parish placement from St Stephen’s House, and the priest asked me to visit her. Jenny was a wonderful, faithful communicant, who served others with joy. But she kept within herself a secret, which she told no one, but which she blurted out to me – a stranger in her home. This secret from her past used to play on her mind in the dark of night. She had done something foolish as a slip of a girl, and she felt guilty about it.
Sometimes guilt can be a helpful thing: it can be a useful companion on our journey, as it can point us in the right direction. However, guilt was choking Jenny all through her life, like a weed that is never quite absent but is gradually squeezing the life out of a garden. Human guilt can be exaggerated – the result of faulty perceptions, unrealistic expectations, and self-defeating images of God. I reminded Jenny about the Sacrament of Confession. It was available each week in her church, but her self-loathing made her stay away. After a bit of gentle persuasion I walked her to the church the following day and she told the priest all that was troubling her conscience, and received Absolution.
I’d never seen a 72-year-old skip out of church before; but that day I did. Jenny’s sin was acknowledged, not condoned, but it was overwhelmed by forgiveness! She told me the next day that she had the first full night of sleep since she was 15. Jenny didn’t discover mercy from a book – not even from reading the Gospels – but she experienced it within the failings and hurts of her own life and within the broken Body of Christ that we call the Church, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And that can be true for each of us. When the only wedding garment we can wear to the banquet is our weary brokenness, and as we stand in our penitential rags, our sins remind us that we need a Saviour. This is so much more than just Jesus as a friend: we all recognise how helpful and moving it is, to have a friend with us in our difficulties and who will sympathize with us. But if we were drowning, we would need more than a friend to jump in and say, ‘I’m with you in your drowning, I can feel your panic and pain…’. We would actually need someone to jump in and rescue us, to lift us out of our mess. And that’s what our Saviour does. He rescues us and does extraordinary things for us – we see it time and again in the Gospels. And, of course, we see it culminating on the Cross, where He looks out with a different perspective. God in Christ never sees enemies, just His children created out of love, with his eyes becoming conduits of mercy.
St John helps us to understand: Jesus was so close to the Father’s Heart that Jesus has made Him known. What we see when we look at Jesus is an outward and visible sign of the Merciful Heart of the Father. Christ’s love can never be altered or changed by our sins. Some folk think that sin alters how Jesus feels about them, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus is not surprised by our sins, so we must have confidence in God’s Mercy, expect all from His clemency, and never doubt His readiness to forgive. God may be Almighty God, but He is a God of Love: a Father who runs up the road of our life to embrace us, like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.
Our Christian vocation is grounded on the truth that Jesus came to give us life in all its fullness. The supreme demonstration of Mercy is the Incarnation, when the Lord of the ages descended to touch us, to give us the kiss of life, and to raise us up when we were drowning in our sins. ND