Paschal Worton concludes his thoughts on the mercy of God
A piece of art that is very important for me is called ‘the Merciful Trinity.’ The Trinity from medieval times onwards usually shows the Father on His throne in the centre, often holding His Crucified Son, as the Holy Spirit hovers above in the form of a dove. This depiction is very different indeed.
One of the constant things about being human is that our ego often pushes us to want to be the centre of attention: to be noticed, and to be given what we see as our due. But the unexpected thing about this ceramic depiction is that in the middle of the Trinity is a human being: not in glory, but an individual representing humanity in his complete misery. He is surrounded by the threefold God: God the Father, who takes the person in his arms (we think of the good Samaritan or on the merciful father who receives his lost son); God the Son, Jesus Christ, who bends over on the earth in order to kiss the feet of the person (a play on the scene of the foot washing); and God the Holy Spirit, who in the image of a dove or flame, will penetrate human life. The person in need is, in a sense, held within the love of the Holy Trinity.
And now, think about where you are. You may feel far from God, you may feel angry, lost, crushed, and broken: a bit like the human being in this image. But think about your place. First, you matter to God. We know this from the Gospels: a precious characteristic of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is that again and again we find him giving all of Himself to an individual person. Mercy is away of living. Mercy flowed from His heart, into his hands, his lips, his eyes. And this same Mercy is available in our ministries today: through the laying on of hands, anointing, through the words of absolution in Confession, and through the gaze of mercy from the Church through her ministers. Think about your place: you don`t have to fight for it. You are in the centre: the centre of God’s love and God’s Mercy. And if you and I have our place within the centre of the Trinity of Mercy, so does each of our brothers and sisters, especially those whom we find difficult to love. They are at the centre too, so we should feel challenged to give to others what we have received.
Perhaps we can each recall a time in our lives when we were not looking for mercy; but were wonderfully touched by it nonetheless. Perhaps today, in the healing ministries, there is a chance for us to feel ‘found again’ by God – instead of being forever judged and condemned by others or, worse, by ourselves. Mercy is not pity. Rather, it is the restoration of dignity and value. It does not degrade us – it transforms us. It is like the Prodigal Son being given a ring on his finger, shoes on his feet, and a festal garment when he least expected it.
We can be surprised: not by our sins, but by God’s Mercy. From the moment of our conception, right through all the detours, twists and mess-ups of our life’s journey, this Divine Mercy has followed and continues to follow us. The Good News is that the more we have been injured by life, the more wounds we bear, and the farther we have strayed, the more God’s love longs to touch and restore us. In a mysterious way it’s often when we’re at our wits’ end that we discover this truth. Self-sufficiency does not bring mercy down to us: human helplessness does. With Paul and all the saints, we then know that strength can come from weakness, and we can experience the power of Merciful Love – the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
If we were to rewind our own memories, I expect most of us can think of certain moments in life when we received mercy: from God, from strangers, from friends, from relatives, from loved ones. Someone reached out to us in forgiveness and compassion, and gave us another chance. Such moments may be few for some and many for others; but we must all learn from our experiences of the mercy of God in whatever form we receive it. We must learn to live consciously ‘Under the Mercy,’ as Br Denis used to say. And – having been ourselves lifted from sinking in the drowning waters of panic, fear, guilt, and sin – we can and must release the springs of mercy within ourselves, so that they overflow and bring life to others.
The Revd Paschal Worton is Team Vicar of St Mary’s, Somers Town, London.