Mercy and Reconciliation


9 Feb 2016

At different times in my life, I have sought love, compassion and mercy. I’ve had to surrender my ego, and accept failure or struggle. As a practising (though imperfect) Catholic Christian for most of my life, I have wrestled, questioned and grown in awareness of my own need to love and be loved by God. At no time have I seen God’s mercy speak louder than when my failures drag me to the confessional, seeking and begging forgiveness and life renewed.

I place here some thoughts that have helped me muster courage to step into the Sacrament of love and experience pardon and peace.

Often, we become discouraged. Perhaps you, like me have wondered if your darkness is far from worthy of God’s love and forgiveness. Indeed it’s true that such sublime mercy could never be attained by human strength alone, that no effort, no merit or no guilt-ridden grief could ever earn God’s pardon.

Yet, God does not ask that we earn it; such is the beauty of the mystery. God simply asks that we allow this gift to reach down and transform us. It showers down as freely as rain falls upon the land. God asks only that we set fear aside and allow this life-giving gift to reach down, drench and strengthen our weakness.

God asks that we open our hearts and allow his cleansing mercy to reach our darkest corners, to lighten our every shadow, and not let shame hide our sin from his loving sight.

It is only too easy to become discouraged when we find ourselves confessing the same, over and over again, each time furiously vowing it was the last time; to feel tainted, enslaved damaged by our weakness, worthless.

God, however speaks of freedom, he creates us anew every time we fall before his feet. His way is not to patch up our brokenness; God’s way is to restore and make us whole once again, every time we call.

Absolution is not a mend but rather the life-giving Spirit of the God raising us from the shadows as new creatures in his image. If a thousand times we fall, a thousand times will God call us to be once again born in His love by His everlasting mercy?

Yet we are headstrong. We become obsessed with our failures, our repeated stumbling and falling, our weakness and shame. Often, despite our God constantly whispering his love and pardon, we silence Him with our past, with the lasting pain of our failure and our wounded pride. The truth however lies within the very word of absolution: “I absolve you from your sin”. I absolve you! I break the power your sin has over you! I destroy the shackles that hold you in misery! I have restored your freedom! It is not a matter of forgiving but not forgetting, that is our human way of love. God’s way is complete, eternal and absolute. His way is that of freedom. Before His mercy, our sins are destroyed and we are set victors.

When approaching the sacrament with a raving conscience and a mournful heart, it is often fear that drowns the hope of being once more reconciled; fear that this time, I have exhausted God’s mercy, that this time I have fallen that much deeper into sin, that this time the pit I have dug for myself is that much deeper than God would ever reach. Rather like the prodigal son, whose guilt moved him to no longer deem himself worthy to be a son.

We wish that our story was more like the older brother’s: a story of faithful obedience and righteousness, and not like that of the youngest: sin, shame and weakness. It was, however, the youngest, errant son who gratefully received the father’s embrace, while the eldest spurned him in anger and self-righteousness. It was the youngest son’s sin and worthlessness that enabled him to experience mercy, while his eldest brother, steadfast and faithful, turned his back to it.
Let us, then, become a prodigal son, a Mary Magdalene, and welcome the heartfelt tears of repentance over a life of heartless righteousness, for endless mercy and comfort awaits the grieving sinner in the sacrament but the hardened heart who seeks no mercy, shall never know the bliss of freedom in the Father’s love.

Susannah Bishop is a Canberra-based writer.
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