Do you show mercy in your daily life?
If we want to be merciful, like the Father, we must offer mercy.
If we want to make a good confession this Lent, we must face up to where we’ve failed.
Over these few weeks, we are considering the spiritual works of mercy. Today, I invite you to ask: have I borne wrongs patiently?
We’ve just heard the very familiar story of the Prodigal Son. The young son pursued sins of the flesh, wasting his inheritance on a life of luxury which brought no lasting fulfilment. The elder brother fell into sins of the heart: jealousy and unforgiveness. But today I invite you to focus on the father in this story, and the way he loves his sons. Jesus told us this story so that we could know the heart of God-the-Father.
In all the years I’ve worked as a priest, I’ve heard a lot of stories of broken hearts and broken families. Hearts may be broken when a close friend doesn’t fulfil our hopes or expectations. Families can be broken when there’s an inheritance, and someone thinks they are not getting their fair share.
The father in this story had every right to abandon his younger son. By asking for his inheritance, that son had said, in effect, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” In a different kind of story, Dad would have said “Take your darn money and never darken this door again!” But in the story Jesus tells, the father is watching out every day, longing for his wayward son to return – watching so intently that when the son appears in the distance, the father runs to embrace him and welcome him home. Not only that, but when the elder brother is having a hissy-fit in the garden, this same father comes out and pleads with his firstborn to show some compassion. This father is a peacemaker. This father believes that unity is so important, he is willing to make big sacrifices in order to draw back to him the children he loves.
I’m not saying that it’s wrong to hope for a fair outcome. It’s morally good to seek justice, especially for vulnerable people who can’t stand up for themselves. But it’s not always easy to work out a “fair” outcome is. It’s one thing to seek justice for the vulnerable, but quite another to seek to get my own way when I have a private dispute with another person. In such cases, God asks us for a special kind of triumph. Am I strong enough to say: “I choose to let you win”?
This isn’t about being a doormat who caves in because of pressure. This is about being a strong Christian who freely chooses unity above getting my own share. We talk about “justice and peace”, but sometimes the only way to peace is by taking a deep breath and accepting a solution where I come off second best. Was it fair for Jesus to bear the punishment for all the sinners of the human race? No, but he was generous enough to accept it.
It’s OK to hope that our friends will devote a lot of time and energy in our direction. But let’s not withdraw our friendship when they don’t.
It’s OK to hope for an equal slice of the pie when you are in someone’s will. But remember, it wasn’t your money in the first place, and someone might have good reason to give a larger slice to someone whose hidden needs only they know. Grown-up children who expect nothing from their parents can never be disappointed, only delighted.
It’s OK to hope for justice, but let our prayer always be: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. And when we know it’s time to accept something we cannot change, we can make our own this prayer taught by Our Lady of Fatima: O Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offences committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
St Paul understood God’s love. Paul himself had arrested Christians and approved when they were killed. But Jesus had stepped into Paul’s life and called him to become a Christian preacher. Now Paul understood the amazing love of God-the-Father, so he could write: “God was not counting our sins against us.”
St Paul dared to say that in Christ, we were called “to become the righteousness of God”. I am speaking about the spiritual works of mercy because if we practice them, we become living saints, and God does not want us to settle for anything less. Rudyard Kipling penned a poem about his vision of what it meant to be a real man. With apologies to Kipling, here is my offering about what it means to become the “righteousness of God” in this regard:
If you can dream of wealth you may inherit,
Yet smile when what you’re willed is not a bean;
If you can love when not reciprocated,
Yet not condemn your paramour as mean;
If you can hope to be best friends forever,
But not respond with wrath should friendship end,
And ask the grace of God to bear wrongs nobly –
Then you will be indeed a saint, my friend!
Crucifix in the Crypt at Beauraing, Belgium. Inscription translates as: If you love my Son (Jesus), then sacrifice yourselves!