Mercy's debt

It's a good thing God loves us so much. Because no matter how hard or how long we have tried, St. Paul's words are still true: "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). Few things reveal this more than the absence of Jesus' closest disciples at the foot of the cross. While some might flatter themselves into thinking they would have done better, an honest glance at the sinner in the mirror reveals otherwise.

And that's the point.

Divine Mercy isn't just an added benefit or extra amenity. Our entire lives -- from our first breath to our eternal destiny -- depend on it. Apart from God's mercy, we are nothing. But with it, everything becomes possible. All the keys to grace and glory are placed in our hands. Our sins and failures no longer define us. Even when we falter, mercy catches us and carries us upward.

Still, there's something a bit unsettling about a merciful God -- one so merciful that he was revealed as mercy itself. That's because we are quick to claim God's mercy for ourselves but slow to respond to mercy's claim on us. The mercy every one of us needs from God requires us to be channels of mercy to others.

Mercy was never intended to remain only a vertical reality, the substance of the relationship between each individual and God. And there is no sidestepping this challenge of Christian living. As he sent them out to minister, Jesus reminded the Twelve to freely give what they had freely received (see Matthew 10:8.) When Peter asks how many times he is required to forgive, Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving debtor. In it, he presents a man who was released from a debt he could not repay but then refuses to forgive a smaller debt owed to him by another. (See Matthew 18: 21-35.) We run into this headlong every time we pray the words Jesus taught us: "And forgive us our trespasses and we forgive those who trespass against us" (cf. Luke 11:4 and Mt. 6:12).

It shouldn't surprise anyone that our world has become simultaneously less Christian and less forgiving. A culture in which people avoid and "cancel" one another is contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one flourishes in a merciless world; the pain is too great. And where no one forgives, the hurt remains. Only mercy can dispel it.

Mercy is inseparable from Christian faith and discipleship. We are called to forgive everyone; to love not only our neighbors but also our enemies. We cannot cut ourselves off from everyone who has hurt us and anyone we find difficult. Sometimes, yes, we must keep a safe distance to protect ourselves from further hurt. But that distance must not be so great that we cannot or do not love across it. Christians cannot simply dispose of people. We cannot position ourselves as recipients of God's mercy without recognizing that we are also called to bring that same mercy to everyone else. Divine Mercy isn't just a beautiful devotion or a day on the Church's liturgical calendar. It's a way of life, one desperately needed by the world around us -- one just as desperately needed among us.

The mistake so many of us make amounts to a misunderstanding of what mercy is -- and isn't. Forgiving someone isn't pretending the hurts never happened or signing up for abuse. It isn't an excuse for anything, but the recognition that we all fail -- that I am no less indebted to God than anyone else. And yet, God offers forgiveness to every one of us. We all owe mercy's debt.

Mercy is the acknowledgment that each and every person is more valuable than the sins they commit or the goodness they create. That by God's abundant grace, people can and do change. It is the decision to love people beyond what they are or have been, with the kind of love that overcomes all. Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us -- and on the whole world.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.