A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘mercy

With so much going on right now—including the constant effort to keep my home ready to show potential buyers on short notice and concern for a loved one who started chemo treatments this week—sometimes I forget to just take a breath.

It seems as though my mind and body are busy from the moment my alarm goes off in the morning till the moment I turn off the lamp on my bedside table at night. And if I’m not just thinking about what’s going on, I’m praying about it as I push through my day.

But here’s some food for thought from Psalm 94:18-19*:

When I thought, “My foot slips,”

your mercy, O LORD, held me up.

When the cares of my heart are many,

your consolations cheer my soul.

We can easily get so caught up in our worries and cares and hectic lives that we don’t recognize the reason we can keep going: God, in his mercy, is holding us up and even carrying us when we struggle to go on. And we can miss the joyful moments he sends us to help us soldier on.

This week, my son celebrated his 16th birthday. As we go through a difficult time, I know that he is one of the consolations God has given me, showing more thoughtfulness and maturity than most people would expect of someone his age. And so we took the time to make his birthday special with a homemade card; thoughtfully chosen gifts; a family game of basketball before our dinner that he helped barbecue; more family time; and, of course, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing that I made. It was a joy to press pause on everything else and celebrate my son, who is, as I told him the other day, becoming a wonderful young man of good character.

Maybe we can press pause—not necessarily for a day, but for a few moments—to reflect on our lives and notice the consolations God sends us when we’re struggling: family members who stand behind us, a parish community that supports us, friends who call just when we need someone to listen, the gift of our children who brighten our lives.

And maybe, just maybe, our cares might seem a little easier to bear.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

As I pushed my cart through the store aisles this morning, Duffy’s song “Mercy” began to play over the loudspeaker.

It got me thinking about mercy—how we experience it, how we show it to others, and how we benefit from God’s mercy.

As children, we might think of mercy as that game where people try to bend back each other’s hands until they give up and say, “Mercy!” When we’re older, we might think of mercy as the kindness we show to those in dire need—such as the victims of a natural disaster, war or persecution—or as something a leader or a judge exercises in sparing a prisoner from a harsh sentence.

Every day, whether we realize it or not, we benefit from God’s mercy. Every day, we fall short of his expectations. Deliberately or not, we hurt others; we fail to show kindness even when it would cost us little; we refuse to recognize others’ needs, rights, dignity and humanity. Yet God continues to give us opportunities to learn from and correct our mistakes. To do better. To become more like him.

Do we ever wonder why? Read these words from Psalm 103:8-12*:

The LORD is merciful and gracious,

slow to anger and abounding in mercy.

He will not always chide,

nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He does not deal with us according to our sins,

nor repay us according to our iniquities.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is his mercy toward those who fear him;

as far as the east is from the west,

so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

Since we’re called to become more like Christ, if that’s what we truly want, then why do we hang onto our anger or hold grudges or vow to make others pay for their wrongs against us? Are we like the unmerciful servant who, forgiven his own debt, threw a fellow servant into prison until he paid what he owed (see Matthew 18:23-35)?

If God held onto his anger, if he paid us in full for our sins, if he insisted on our being able to repay what we owed without giving us the chance to repent and be forgiven, would we be able to stand before him?

May we remember these words of the Lord as he passed before Moses, being thankful that he is a merciful God and striving to be more like him:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness, keeping merciful love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6-7

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

 

 

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

We may not like everything others do, but when their words and actions generally show that they care for us and want the best for us, loving someone who loves us isn’t much of a challenge.

Loving our enemies, on the other hand…

We may have this idea that Christians love everyone. We’re supposed to, since all people—regardless of their faith (or lack of faith) or the fact that they may have done awful things in their lives—are children of God. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there are people we dislike. People whose attitudes rub us the wrong way. People who use us to move ahead in their careers or betray a confidence or lie, yet aren’t concerned about the effects of their actions.

Jesus told us to love them anyway:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45*)

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your father is merciful.” (Luke 6:35-36)

We might be tempted to lash out at those who hurt us by confronting them with angry words, speaking harshly about them to others, or looking for a way to make them “pay” for what they’ve done. But we’re called to move past those angry feelings, as the apostle Paul pointed out in Romans 12:19, 21:

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We too have our moments when we’re selfish and ungrateful, when we don’t worry enough about the consequences of what we say and do, when we hurt others. If we would want them to show us mercy, shouldn’t we do the same? If the angry feelings linger, shouldn’t we pray to reach that point where we forgive those who hurt us? We won’t forget what happened, and we may struggle to trust them again, but we’re freed from being consumed by hate or bitterness or self-pity.

To move away from the anger and hurt and toward forgiveness and mercy, may we remember the fact that we’d want to be forgiven if we hurt others—and remember all that God has forgiven us.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

Homemade Christmas scene

Part of a Christmas scene created by my great-grandparents during World War II.

Every year, I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, partly because I enjoy reading about Christmases past, but mainly because I enjoy seeing how the miserly, crusty Ebeneezer Scrooge is transformed by his experience.

When Scrooge pointed out to the Ghost of Jacob Marley that Jacob was “always a good man of business,” the Ghost had this to say:

‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’

Maybe we need to look at business in the way Marley’s Ghost described. Kindness, mercy and charity take up more room in our thoughts as Christmas approaches, but are they something we think about once a year, just in time to earn those charitable tax credits, or do we even think about these virtues at all?

It’s wonderful when people donate food hampers at Christmastime or make donations to soup kitchens so that people can enjoy a holiday meal, but people are hungry all year long.

It’s great when we donate gently used and new winter gear for charities to give out to those in need, but we could donate clothing and household items at any season as our children grow out of their clothes or we find we no longer wear or use items.

It’s a blessing to charities when we select presents from their gift catalogues, but we could support their efforts to provide clean water, care for expectant mothers, or educate girls and women all year long.

Our giving could have more of an impact if, instead of giving into charitable impulses or looking late in the year to earn receipts at tax time, we thought about what touched our hearts and gave in a planned way, whether in the form of money, time, or skills. We can learn more about the charities we’re considering giving to through the Canadian Council of Christian Charities’ certified charities website and Canada Revenue Agency’s Charities Listings.

May we not be so caught up in our day-to-day routine that we, like Marley’s Ghost, could ask ourselves this:

‘Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’

While my husband and son have time off work and school, I’ll be taking a break from this blog to spend time with them, and I’ll post again the first week of January. I wish you all a wonderful Christmas, green though it may be, and all the best for the new year. 

 

When people do something society condemns, we hear about the need for them to get “what they deserve” or receive their “just desserts.”

We need to stop for a moment and think whether that’s what we’d want for ourselves. Would we want to get what we deserve?

If we weren’t sinners, we wouldn’t need to go to reconciliation or to ask God’s mercy at the start of Mass. We wouldn’t need Jesus’ sacrifice to cleanse us of our sins. But even though we know we need to acknowledge and confess our sins and ask for God’s forgiveness, we recognize that our thoughts, words and actions show we don’t deserve the forgiveness and love that God, in his mercy, gives us.

What we’re asking for echoes what the people of Gazara, a city under siege, asked Simon for in 1 Maccabees 13:45-46*:

The men in the city, with their wives and children, went up on the wall with their clothes torn, and they cried out with a loud voice, asking Simon to make peace with them; they said, “Do not treat us according to our wicked acts but according to your mercy.”

We’re asking God to treat us according to his mercy and not to hand out the punishment we deserve.

Do we turn around and fail to show that mercy to others? Do we forgive or nurse grudges? Do we offer others the second chance we want when we make mistakes? Do we really treat other people as our neighbour, with kindness and compassion and understanding?

We need to remember the parable Jesus told about the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). When Jesus asked the lawyer which of the men in the parable truly acted as a neighbour to the robbed and injured man, he answered, “The one who showed mercy on him.” The reply?

And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (v.37)

I pray that, each day, we would take Jesus’ words to heart and go about our day with a heart open and ready to show mercy and forgive.

“And forgive us our trespasses

As we forgive those who trespass against us….” (Matthew 6:12)

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

I’m back after taking time off from the blog while my husband took a vacation from work. I hope you find some time to be refreshed and renewed before the September routine starts up again.

Have mercy on me
You treat me so bad I’m in misery
It’s breaking my heart, can’t you see
Baby, baby have mercy on me

~ “Have Mercy,” The Judds

The world’s major religions and philosophies feature some version of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” On the Scarboro Missions website, a poster illustrating this truth refers us to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12*:

“So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.”

Jesus said these words during his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), when he told us, among other things, to be reconciled to those we’re angry with, to avoid retaliation, and to love our enemies. At that time, he gave us the Our Father, where he taught us to ask that God would “forgive us our trespasses / As we forgive those who trespass against us” (6:12). Jesus also warned us about the consequences of failing to forgive:

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (6:14-15)

We may find it hard to forgive, whether we’re dealing with slights against us (a thoughtless or an unkind comment about our appearance, our hopes, our beliefs, our vocation; the lack of an invite to a social event) or deep hurt caused by a friend, a family member or our spouse.

God knows that we struggle with mercy and forgiveness, but he also knows that holding onto hurt, anger and bitterness can consume us. He invites us to ask his forgiveness for our thoughts, words and actions through the sacrament of reconciliation and to come to him for comfort and healing.

The next time we say “Kyrie, eleison” or “Lord, have mercy” at Mass, may we call to mind the times we have failed to show mercy and forgive—and ask God to forgive and heal us.

Let this be the pattern for all men when they practice mercy: show mercy to others in the same way, with the same generosity, with the same promptness, as you want others to show mercy to you.

~ St. Peter Chrysologus, quoted in “Celebrate July 2015,” Catholic Digest, June / July / August 2015

(*Scripture quotes and references taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”

~ Matthew 9:13*

Too often we hear and read about one religious or ethnic group retaliating against or exacting revenge on another through ethnic cleansing, war or persecution. Mercy seems to be in short supply these days.

When I read about the Church’s Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, this song popped into my head (probably because I grew up in the ’80s):

Kyrie eleison, down the road that I must travel

Kyrie eleison, through the darkness of the night

Kyrie eleison, where I’m going will you follow?

Kyrie eleison, on a highway in the light

~ “Kyrie,” Mr. Mister

No matter who we are, we’re all in need of a little mercy.

On Saturday, Pope Francis presented the Bull of Indiction for this Holy Year, which will run from December 8, 2015, to November, 20, 2016. He writes that the Jubilee is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy” that God “constantly extends to all of us.”

The Holy Father reminds us, “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident.” The scriptures tell us of our need for God’s mercy and his grace in granting it:

  • Exodus 33:19: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
  • Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.”
  • Proverbs 28:13: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
  • Micah 7:18: “[God] does not retain his anger for ever because he delights in mercy.”

Pope Francis also reminds us that, “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy.” As Jesus preached in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:7:), “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”

Is that what people encounter within our parish church—and outside its walls? Do we recognize that we’re all sinners and undeserving of the mercy God grants us, whether we’re cradle Catholics or converts, long-time parishioners or newcomers or occasional visitors? Do we encourage our First Eucharist, Confirmation and RCIA candidates—and all other parishioners—to look forward to reconciliation, to see it as a chance to experience God’s mercy? Does our parish offer regular reconciliation times?

I pray that we would not wait for the start of this Jubilee but instead act now, seeking God’s mercy for ourselves and extending it to others, and remembering these words from 1 Peter 1:3-4:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you….

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Familiar with the definition of insanity—the one where a person does the same thing over and over and yet expects a different result?

I’ve been living it out on a small scale lately.

Three times I’ve ordered the same dish from a restaurant I liked. The first time, the food was so spicy it made my lips burn and upset my stomach. The second time, there were few vegetables and the protein looked like it had seen better days. And the third time was not the charm. With heartburn on the horizon, I swore off visiting this restaurant again. Three strikes, and it’s out.

Thankfully, God doesn’t work on a “three strikes” rule. He gives us second, third and fourth chances, and many more. God’s way is the definition not of insanity, but of compassion.

When we make poor choices—acting out of anger, frustration, loneliness, and so on—he offers us forgiveness, if only we’ll ask for it.

sleepy kitties

Loki let Skittles snuggle up to him, even though Skittles often nipped at him, pestering him to play. That’s forgiveness.

When we say hurtful things and think unkind thoughts, forgiveness is ours for the asking.

When we ignore the right path and choose our own, we can still seek his forgiveness.

And even though we come to him in need over and over again, he keeps offering his love and mercy and compassion.

Think about Peter’s question about forgiveness in Matthew 18:21-22*:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”

This is the mercy God offers us. The kind of mercy we need to extend to our children, spouse, family, friends, and neighbours.

I pray that we would give thanks for the love and mercy and compassion God shows us, and that we would grow in these qualities and in our capacity for showing them to others.

The LORD passed before [Moses], and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy and faithfulness . . . .”

~ Exodus 34:6

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

 

During my brief time at law school, I often heard in my criminal law classes that “Justice must be done and must be seen to be done.”

I think we could say something similar about Christians. Maybe “Christians must love mercy and must be seen to love mercy,” or “Followers of Jesus must act like Christians and must be seen to act like Christians.”

In Matthew 23:2-3, Jesus cautioned his followers and disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition). As Christians, we don’t want to be tarred with the same brush.

Those familiar with The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman know that we can’t assume a person feels loved. We have to show our love in a way that person will understand. In the same way, it’s not enough to tell people that love, justice and mercy are important to us as Christians; we have to show that these values are important to us.

So how do we do just that? Here are ten suggestions of ways to show love for our neighbour and a commitment to justice and mercy:

  • Help people care for their yard or shovel their driveway when physical challenges or illness prevent them from carrying out these tasks.
  • Donate non-perishable items to food bank collection bins or small change to stores’ charity collection boxes.
  • Let someone else make good use of clothing we no longer wear: think outgrown children’s clothing, dress clothes for men and women who need clothing for job interviews, or even prom or wedding dresses just hanging in our closets.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen (such as the one run by the Shepherds of Good Hope) or a parish or community food bank.
  • Help newcomers to Canada adjust to life in their new country by volunteering with an organization like the Catholic Immigration Centre of Ottawa.
  • Support the pro-life movement by participating in an event like a 40 Days for Life campaign or by writing letters to elected officials asking them to support pro-life legislation.
  • Support charities that work for social justice. The Canada Revenue Agency’s listing of charities and the Canadian Council of Christian Charities website provide valuable information about charities’ finances and values.
  • Minister to prisoners by providing bibles (for example, through the Canadian Bible Society) or serving on a Bible study, worship or visitation team through an organization like Prison Fellowship Canada.
  • Look into socially responsible investing, or ethical investing, when considering retirement savings options.
  • Contact MPs and MPPs to voice an opinion on legislation that could affect the justice and mercy that will be shown to both current and future citizens.

May we share the prayer of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: “Help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go—let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example” (quoted in Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers).

Though the power of Omnipotence had been his to wield at that moment, he had too much of its diviner property of Mercy in his breast, to have turned one feather’s weight of it against her.

– Charles Dickens, The Cricket on the Hearth

When children think of mercy, they might think of the game where one person tries to bend another’s wrists back until he or she cries, “Mercy!”

As adults, we know mercy is a gift that we don’t deserve but that God gives us out of love. The Catechism tells us in s. 270 that “God reveals his fatherly omnipotence…by his infinite mercy, for he displays his power at its height by freely forgiving sins.”

With the events of Holy Week still fresh in our minds, God’s love for and mercy toward us should be as plain as day. But as the Redemptorist priest speaking at my parish’s mission said, people may go to confession and receive absolution from a priest and yet find it hard to believe God could actually forgive them.

Since this will be the first Sunday after Easter, Catholics will mark Divine Mercy Sunday. If you are new to the Catholic Church, you can learn more by reading Divine Mercy in My Soul: Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska and visiting The Divine Mercy Message from the Marians of the Immaculate Conception website.

As the site tells us, the message “is that God loves us—all of us. And, he wants us to recognize that His mercy is greater than our sins, so that we will call upon Him with trust, receive His mercy, and let it flow through us to others.”

We need to grasp that truth: our sins may be great, but God’s mercy is greater. We can place our trust in God, who has told us (see Exodus 34:6) and shown us that he is merciful. And we in turn can show that mercy to others.

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Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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