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 You Can't Buy Mercy by Father John Harris

You Can’t Buy Mercy

by Fr. John Harris OP

The Father’s Mercy

With these words Pope Francis officially opened the Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, beginning on 8th December 2015: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. Mercy has become living and visible in Jesus of Nazareth”.

The Image of Divine Mercy

These words are not new to those of us who have a devotion to the Divine Mercy. The devotion was revealed to St. Faustina by Jesus Himself and it is He who is Divine Mercy. Divine Mercy isn’t a thing we believe in, rather it is the very person of Jesus who comes into our lives and by our contact with Him we encounter the truth of Divine Mercy. In many ways the devotion of Divine Mercy is summed up in the picture that St. Faustina was asked to paint in obedience to the request of Jesus to her. It is a painting of Jesus Himself with one hand raised in blessing and the other pointing towards His heart, out of which flow the white and red rays, showing us that it is from His heart that all mercy and love flow. Jesus is the font of all grace in the Church and in the world.

True Friendship

Sometimes when people speak of mercy it seems as if they are talking about a thing, as if it was a product that one could buy and add to what one already possesses. Mercy is not a thing in that sense of something; it is not like petrol for a car that we can top-up every now and again. Mercy is the true relationship we have with the living Saviour Himself. Put very simply, as we Catholics understand it, mercy is friendship with God. It is a personal relationship with God, who in Jesus has touched our lives and shared his life with us in the deepest possible union. Mercy is a communion of persons.

Getting Away with Sin

I was asked recently if is it enough just to tell one sin in confession to have all your sins forgiven. This reminds me of a question that St. Thomas Aquinas was asked centuries ago: is it okay to be sorry for one mortal sin while still committing another mortal sin? This is the type of legalistic moralism that Jesus finds most objectionable in His arguments with the Pharisees in the Gospels. The moral life is not about getting away with some sins; rather it is concerned with having an open and true relationship with Jesus. The Church has seen the ravages of this way of thinking, when her members only told half-truths in confession or dressed up their sins in general ways. St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that we are called to live in friendship with Christ, if, however, we are committing sins which are not compatible with living in friendship with Jesus then this is no friendship at all. How can I claim to be living in friendship while knowingly doing something which offends the other?

Grace and Mortal Sin

The reason that grace and mortal sin cannot be co-present within the soul is that to be in mortal sin is to be at enmity with God, not in friendship with God. But to have sanctifying grace is to be in friendship with God. And since a person cannot both be in friendship with God and be at enmity with God, therefore grace and mortal sin cannot be co-present in the soul.

We can’t be half friends with Jesus. St. Paul teaches us that once we are set free by grace that doesn’t give us the liberty to sin as we want, but rather once we have given ourselves over to Christ then we are free to love as Christ loves and in this way we live in the freedom as the children of God.

Read the Gospels Everyday

A number of years ago someone came to visit me who was living an immoral lifestyle. He told me his story very openly and honestly. I asked him if he prayed. He said that he didn’t as he presumed that prayer was useless for someone in his situation. I asked him if he knew Jesus in a personal way. Again he asked how could he be close to Jesus living as he did. I invited him to join me in prayer. As he left, I gave him a book of the Gospels and asked him to go away and to read a passage from the Gospels each day.

He came back to see me again after a month and we talked some more and prayed some more. Slowly, over the months, he came to see Jesus as a real person, someone he was beginning to have a relationship with. He then came to see that his lifestyle was not in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and he realised he had to make some fundamental choices about his way of life.

He made some very brave decisions. He is probably one of the most courageous Christians I have ever come across. He now lives a truly holy life of generosity in his friendship with Jesus. He tells me that in his friendship with Jesus he has found all the love he ever sought and more. When I asked him if I could share his story he answered of course if I felt his story would help others to make their journey of mercy.

He would never have made the decisions he made if I had simply told him the moral teachings of the Church and let him on his way. Neither would he have chosen his present life if I had said to him that 95% of your life is okay therefore there is no need to worry about the other 5%. He is a living example to me of how grace works in a person’s life.

Being Honest with Jesus

True friendship with Christ is offered to us by the merciful God. We can begin from wherever we are at but once we begin to open ourselves to the Divine Mercy Himself, then we can travel home to full and lasting friendship. It is my hope that each of us will come to a deeper realisation of the love with which we are loved by God. That we will live our devotion to the Divine Mercy by personally opening ourselves ever more to His mercy in our lives and that we will journey with Him to rejoice in the true freedom of the children of God. Look upon the face of Jesus, live with that face and journey deeper into mercy.

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Our Lady Untier of Knots

Our Lady Untier of Knots
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Click this link to view: Our Lady Untier of Knots Prayer Book