Category: Catholic Sexuality

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Mercy and The Truth of Sin

Day 8 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘The knowledge of my own misery allows me to know the immensity of Your mercy.’ (56)

In order for Mercy to have its perfect way in us, we must recognize the depth of our sin. Mercy applies only to those who accept the terminal diagnosis of ‘miserable sinner.’ In that way, Mercy is not a sweet and accepting disposition that some people embody more than others; Mercy is the cure for a chronic disease—for the dehumanizing things that we perpetuate.

Pope Benedict expresses it eloquently:

‘Man, in order that God’s image shine radiantly in him, must first and foremost receive the purification whereby the divine Sculptor frees him from the dross which conceals the authentic figure of His being in man…” (Called to Communion, pp. 141, 2)

In other words, no recognition of dross—the sin that distorts our image-bearing form—no purification. Where sin is not acknowledged, there can be no genuine extending and receiving of Mercy. How can He forgive what we defend as a right? Mercy demands that misbegotten rights become rubbish to be burned.

For example, ‘progressive’ Christians want to alleviate the burden of guilt young people feel about all manner of premarital sex, be it porn, masturbation, or gay/straight ‘messing around.’ Guilt becomes the problem to be solved, not the dehumanizing behaviors themselves.

Derek Bailey wanted me to feel good about being ‘gay’; he had forgotten the hard truth for every human being—‘the law is written on our hearts’, so that our consciences bear witness that something is wrong (Rom. 2:15). Absolving someone of sin by saying it’s not sin solves nothing. It merely pads one’s prison, thereby extending one’s misery.

Pascal declared: ‘Behold the fathers who take away the sins of the world!’ Our Christian world is full of them—blind guides who so fear to offend sinners that they fail to diagnose their desperate condition. In denying the truth of sin, these ones deny the dying their only cure.

Yet how deep and hungry is the miserable heart for Mercy! The fallen know they have stumbled; in order to walk again with dignity, they need the Mercy that cleanses them, and reconciles them to the One whose image (s)he bears. Mercy makes us human, at peace with the reality of who, and Whose, we really are.

‘Do not withhold Your mercy from me, O Lord; may Your love and Your truth always protect me.’ (Ps 40:10, 11)

‘Father, we ask for great clarity and discernment regarding the nature of Mercy. Please rouse us where we have adopted worldly ideas of her. We pray for the conviction of sin in our own hearts and in those we love; help us to see how sin actually distorts Your very image in us. May Mercy have access to the misery that invites Your cleansing and healing. Burn off the dross, O God, that we might represent You well. Let Mercy have her perfect way in us.’

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Mercy From Rome

While doing a conference in Denver many years ago, a vigorous young man introduced himself to me as Christopher West; he was then the ‘marriage and family’ guy for the Archdiocese of Denver. He loved our emphases on healing through the cross and community. And he wanted me to have a copy of John Paul II’s book: The Theology of the Body, the late great pope’s sweeping take on human sexuality.

Wow. What a meal. For the next couple of years I slowly ate what I now regard as perhaps the most thorough and profound theological work on sexuality. It is a large meal, but not inaccessible. It undergirds the pope’s native compassion with truth: the truth of what our sexuality is for, not just what we should flee, and the deeper meaning of masculine and feminine communion in the divine plan.

Brilliant and relevant, prophetic and yet deeply, richly human; it reinforced what I knew but deepened and expanded the truths already gleaned from Ray Anderson, Karl Barth, and Emil Brunner. On planes and trains I would read a section and take notes on it. I would then meditate on the notes before tackling another section.

It prepared me for the battle at hand, the fight for God’s image in humanity being waged on every continent. In that battle, I needed reinforcement.

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