With humor and ease, Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, deftly unlocks the 'one thing,' the key to the Church's wisdom, and the greatest mystery of the Catholic faith: the Most Holy Trinity... Read more
By Marian Friedrichs (Apr 1, 2013)
The Hebrew language has several words for mercy; one of them, racham, also means "womb," especially a womb that is nurturing a fetus. In other words, mercy, according to the Hebrews, is a mother keeping her unborn baby safe.
This week, that connection has run through my mind as so many of us prepare for Divine Mercy Sunday. We know that we have an important part to play in the feast, but at the same time we need to remember that no matter what we do, mercy is offered to us as freely and unconditionally as a mother offers nurturing care to her child.
When I found out I was pregnant, I spent the entire first trimester anxiously checking for any signs of miscarriage. I searched the internet or one of the many books I'd received from veteran mothers and tried to discover possible omens of danger. Thank God, five months into the pregnancy my baby is still thriving, but I learned from all of that feverish research that there is a lot that can seriously harm a baby, both inside and outside the womb.
At the same time, I realized that the fact that any of us grows up is a great testimony to human love. Most parents will do or sacrifice whatever is necessary to keep their delicate little ones safe, and we need that kind of love just to be able to survive childhood. No wonder God wants us to think of Him as Father. In fact, it seems this analogy had a place in His plan all along: He gave us parents so that we would have a concrete way of understanding His love.
I think that the core of this analogy, the piece of the parent-child puzzle that really throws God's devotion to us into stunning clarity, is the question of what a child does to earn his or her parents' love in the first place. Since the moment I learned my baby existed, all that has mattered to me is taking care of it, and I don't have a logical reason for that. Right now my child has no job in the world except to grow, which doesn't always feel too pleasant for me. I don't know what sicknesses, flaws, or distressing habits he or she will have or how many times he or she will tell me "I hate you." I miss caffeine and wine and the clothes I haven't worn in months. But I'm thrilled to live with all of that for love of a person I've never met.
On Divine Mercy Sunday, many of us will seek the Sacraments to receive the fruits of Jesus' promise to St. Faustina: "The soul that will go to Confession and receive Holy Communion [on the Feast of Mercy] shall obtain complete forgiveness of sin and punishment" (Diary of St. Faustina, 699).
As we joyfully accept Jesus' invitation to this feast, however, let us not make the mistake of thinking that our participation in those Sacraments earns us His mercy or that our lack of participation loses it for good. Only one thing needed to happen for God to offer His mercy to us, the same thing that sparked our mother's love for us: We existed.
And yet, like all good parents, God does want us to grow, to learn, and to become the people He created us to be. Apologist Scott Hahn, in telling about his conversion to Catholicism, said, "God loves us exactly as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way." And so, like a mother who promises her child that eating his spinach and drinking his milk will make him grow big and strong, God promises us that "a whole ocean of graces" will pour out "upon those souls who approach the fount of [His] mercy," the sacraments that give life (Diary, 699).
(If we do choose to seek the fulfillment of this promise, we should also remember that our approach to the Sacrament of Reconciliation does not need to take place on Divine Mercy Sunday itself; this wouldn't be quite realistic for our priests. Saint Faustina herself took it for granted that she could receive the Sacrament on the vigil of the Feast and still be in accordance with Jesus' command, and many of us approach the sacrament on another day during Easter week.)
The promise of that special "complete forgiveness," then, is not a bribe or a way for Him to exert power over us by forcing us to perform certain rituals on a certain day for fear of hell. It is simply an assurance of a natural outcome given by One who loves us the way we are — weak and sinful — but who wants to see us become what we can be: pure and holy. Our mothers promise us that touching a hot stove will hurt our fingers and that getting enough water and exercise will keep us healthy. Our God promises us that sin and a lukewarm practice of our faith will keep us in spiritual babyhood and that repentance and a life centered on the sacraments will bring us to sanctity.
God's love for us does not depend on our observing the Feast of Mercy any more than our mothers' love for us depends on our staying away from the hot stove. But when that much love and superior wisdom offers us a suggestion with the promise of physical or spiritual well-being attached, it makes sense to listen.
So this weekend, let's pray that we see all of our brothers and sisters in those lines for confession and Communion, not because God will only forgive us if we come to church on the second Sunday after Easter, but because we will be closer to the mature holiness He has in mind for us if we approach His altar on the day when "all the divine floodgates through which grace[s] flow are opened" (Diary, 699).
Marian Tascio is a writer and English teacher who lives in Yonkers, N.Y.