Category: Mercy and Healing

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Abundance for a Lonely Son

Day 14 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Abundance for a Lonely Son

‘Jesus, Friend of a lonely heart, You are my haven, You are my peace. You are my salvation, You are my sovereignty in moments of struggle and amidst an ocean of doubt…You are everything to a lonely soul.’ (247)

‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’ could just as well have been called ‘The Loneliness of His Older Brother.’ This story describes brilliantly two very different personalities with two very different responses to their generous father.

The prodigal bolted in search of a sexier inheritance; probably brash and impulsive, he rebelled against the mundane duties required of him ‘down on the farm’. Sin left him destitute until Mercy called him home, back to the house of his father.

In the meantime, his elder brother never left the father’s house and its affairs; he dutifully served his dad. A disciplined and steady worker, he was ‘in the fields’ of the father (Lk. 15: 25) when the party started for his brother’s homecoming.

My hunch is that the elder was religious and compliant, possessing an achingly clear sense of right and wrong. Readily shamed, he experienced his sin as internal and managed it by suppressing unacceptable feelings like lust, envy and self-righteousness. Perfectionism and guilt combined with a weak grasp of Mercy—here was a ‘good boy’ ready to combust!

God used the return of his brother to reveal his heart—the truth that the elder, for all his goodness, needed Mercy too. He could no longer manage his heart; it erupted in rage and envy against his brother. We might ask ourselves the same question: where is the justice in celebrating one who had been unfaithful when the other had never strayed? It’s as if the elder is demanding: “Honor my sacrifice, Father, not the Mercy!”

Perhaps deeper than the elder’s sin is his loneliness. That applies to many faithful ones who work hard in the Church and who stay virgins, who care deeply about their parents and wish not to dishonor them. What an excellent commitment to righteousness!

And yet one that needs care from the Father, lest such faithfulness lose its center and devolve into self-reliance and self-righteousness.

I have known many who struggle deeply with sexual conflicts and yet who remain faithful to God and the Church. Their biggest temptation is not to gross acts of immorality but to a kind of simmering envy toward the ‘prodigal’ as well as a sense of entitlement for their virginal ‘goodness.’ Unless tended to carefully with Mercy, these ones can ultimately be lost to the idols of this world, certain that the Father cares little about their quieter needs.

We need to hear the words of the generous father toward His resentful elder son: ‘My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.’ (Lk. 15: 31) The Father would remind us similarly: My Mercies are new daily for your quiet ‘elder brother’ sins and needs.

We have never ceased to be the apple of His eye. May this parable give us pause to slow down and reflect upon the Mercy that is ours. Close the gap in our lonely hearts with the Presence of Your loving attentiveness, Merciful Father.

‘Who is weak and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin and I do not inwardly burn?’ St. Paul (2 Cor.11: 29)

‘Father, we too are weak. At times we are subject to desires that deride us, and a loneliness that only You fully understand. Would You draw near to us as we seek and serve You today? We have become dutiful in our gratitude to You. Remind us of Your Mercy for us. And for all the elder sons and daughters who have wandered, bring them back into the Heart of Your Mercy. Give us new sight into their suffering. Grant us Your heart for them today.’

Author’s note – Each day’s entry is based a passage from St Faustina’s diary. The passage entry is the number in parentheses at the end of each opening quote. Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska – Divine Mercy in My Soul (Association of Marion Helpers, Stockbridge, MA 01263) is available through the publisher or Amazon.com

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Mercy Restores Our Inheritance

Day 13 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘My Heart overflows with Mercy for souls, especially for poor sinners. If only they could understand that I am the best of Fathers to them, and that it is for them that the Blood and Water flowed from My Heart as from a fount overflowing with Mercy.’ (367)

Jesus employed the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15) to convey the marvel of the Father’s Mercy. No matter how much we have squandered what is best and true about our lives, the Father restores in full our inheritance when we turn back to Him.

If you recall, the prodigal son had a good and generous father who gave his son an early inheritance. The son wanted a sexier life than the one down on the farm. So he left home and squandered everything, his dignity, his money—the good of his inheritance.

I did the same. Un-affirmed as a man, I left home to seek the confirmation of ‘false fathers’ in the sensual, unrestrained world of the west coast, circa the 1970’s. The trouble? Eroticizing other broken men did not resolve my identity crisis; in truth, it worsened it. Like the prodigal, my merriment turned to misery when I realized: ‘No-one actually gave me anything.’ (Lk. 15:16)

Whatever my father’s deficits were, he gave me an inheritance—my name, my manhood, a chance to represent his legacy well. And I squandered it by giving my masculinity to those with nothing to give in exchange. Mercy alone prompted the realization of such Misery; Mercy alone provoked a turning back towards home.

Repentance seemed so feeble at first. Still a long way off, more in shadow than light, we prodigals seem unlikely to reach home. That is where Mercy finds its richest expression. The Father runs to us! He sees our halting efforts to repent and closes the gap with His presence! His very being ensures our turning and restores to us our full inheritance.

In the first few months of my return home, I recall a hard night of sin and struggle followed by a haggard visit to a church the next morning. I felt raw and defiled. Still in shadow, I was approached by a rather strange prophetic woman who came up to me and asked: “Do you know what your name is? It is Andrew, which means ‘masculine one’. You are God’s masculine son.”

I choked down tears and entered in afresh to the worship service. I learned a key lesson that day. My Father does not merely forgive my sin. In exchange for it, He gives me back my full inheritance, which for me had everything to do with His full confirmation of my manhood.

‘While the son was still a long way off, the father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.’ (Lk. 15:20)

‘Father, grant us the clear understanding that Mercy grants us the full measure of our inheritance. Show us what we have squandered; grant us faith to believe You will restore what has been destroyed by sin. Grant us eyes to see that Mercy itself provokes our return home. We pray for those who are wandering far from their inheritance. Bring them home, O God, in the power of Mercy.’   

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Mercy, not Sacrifice

Day 12 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘I am more generous towards sinners than to the just. It was for their sake that I came down from heaven; it was for their sake that My blood was spilled. Let them not fear to approach Me; they are most in need of My Mercy.’ (1275)

Jesus sought out those with hearts hungry for the reign of His Kingdom. He describes that Kingdom in Luke 4:18 as good news for the poor, the imprisoned, the blind, and the oppressed. Missing from that Kingdom ‘call’ were dutiful members of the religious establishment.

Jesus describes the ‘just’ throughout the Gospels as those fixed on religious sacrifices—tithing scrupulously, praying punctually, splitting moral hairs continuously. What most seemed to lack was a need to be saved. Maybe their spiritual disciplines satisfied their hunger for God. Maybe their place of honor in the culture eased their shame so that a Savior seemed irrelevant.

Jesus gravitated toward the sin-sick, those without shelter for their shame. Some were oppressed by their own greed and lusts, like the sexually immoral; some, like Matthew the tax-collector, oppressed others with their greed. Jesus’ Mercy was magnetic for both groups. He realized that these were sheep without a Shepherd (Matt. 9:36), those most subject to harassment (literally, ‘without skin’) in a cruel and critical land.

He sought them out, and they sought Him out, because Jesus mirrored to them both the truth of sin’s oppression as well as its Merciful cure. Jesus hung out with the sinners who knew they were sinners. He did not wink at human bondage, nor is there any evidence that He tolerated those who did. Rather, He broke the yoke of such bondage through the rule of Love.

That is a vital point. Some progressive thinkers employ Jesus’ love for the underdog as proof that Jesus was pro-prostitute and pro-gay, as if Mercy rendered sexual sin a moot point in the Gospels. That is nonsensical. Jesus came for those sick of their sin; implicit here is a recognition of one’s sin and its destructiveness, two confessions you would never hear from a sex activist.

Theologian Dr. Robert Gagnon says it best : ‘Jesus balanced the Father’s ethical demands with His self-sacrificing outreach to transform sinners…He regarded sexual activity in thought and deed outside of lifelong marriage to the opposite sex as capable of jeopardizing one’s entrance into the Kingdom of God. What was distinctive about Jesus was His incredibly generous Spirit toward those who had lived in gross disobedience to God for years. He expended enormous effort and exhibited great compassion in His search for the lost.’ (The Bible and Homosexual Practice)

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12)

‘Jesus, grant us Your heart for the lost. May the harassed and helpless find shelter with us. May we refuse the post-modern heresy of equating Jesus’ love for sinners with His tolerance of sexual sin. Grant us the power of Your Mercy, its energy and availability. May we be a window in which broken ones discover unfailing love. ’

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Mercy and Gratitude

Day 11 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘O Jesus, the more I have known You, the more ardently I have desired You.’ (591)

This woman loved Jesus from a distance; she had witnessed His healings, listened to His teachings and been converted by His powerful love for the lost and the least. She was among them, ‘a sinful woman’, probably a prostitute. We can assume her shame and also her despair, until God revealed Himself to her.

Before she met Jesus, the face of God for her was the Pharisee’s: exacting, decent, exclusive. Her face burned with shame when a religious man looked at her. Jesus’ eyes were different; they seemed to know all about her yet did not scorn her. In truth, He seemed to see her as more than just a ‘bad girl’, as if He were pleading for something better for her.

His Mercy won her over. When she saw Him eating with the Pharisee, she wanted to run right over and give herself to Him, to thank Him, yes, to devote herself to Him. (Lk. 7: 36-50) She knew what it meant to give herself to guys, but that’s not what motivated her this time. It was gratitude; His Mercy made her want to surrender to Him and follow Him, pure and simple.

Her problem? The Pharisee eating with Him! Her liberator and her captor together! Brave-hearted, she risked rejection from the one in order to worship the Other. She endured the Pharisee’s shame for the joy set before her. Silently, she washed His feet with perfume and with tears of gratitude for His love for her. The Pharisee looked on aghast. Was Jesus naïve? Unclean? Certainly not the Savior of the world!

Jesus asked him: if one man owed a banker a hundred dollars and another man owed him a thousand, who would be more grateful for the release of the loan? This woman gave me everything in grateful response to My Mercy; you sit there detached, heady, asking me theological questions with no intention of worshipping Me. ‘Her many sins have been forgiven, and as a result, she loves Me much. But He who has been forgiven of a little will love little.’ (Lk. 7: 47)

Those of us blessed with the duo knowledge of our many sins and the Mercy that is our only Hope become true worshippers. We devote ourselves to Him gratefully because He alone has set us free. No-one or nothing else will do. Only He has the keys to life: the forgiveness of sin, the fighting chance to be reconciled to the better, truer self of His design.

Maybe that’s why Jesus commissioned the Samaritan woman to be one of the true worshippers who would devote herself to Him in Spirit and in Truth (Jn. 4: 23). An unclean woman also, exposed by the all-seeing eye of Jesus, she realized that He alone was God and could set her free. Mercy received in the form of ‘Living Water’ primed her to gratefully worship Him, thus leading the way for millions like us to do the same.

‘Thank You for Mercy, O God. Grant us courage to bypass the Pharisee (in our own hearts and in our churches) in order to worship You with gratitude. You have made Your Mercy known to us. We worship You, O God. Rescue those locked up in fear of the Pharisee. Make Your kind and all-powerful vision for their good evident to them. Use us as Your agents of Mercy in this way, we pray. May many be reunited to the Lord of Mercy through our grateful witness of Mercy.’

 

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Mercy’s Rule

Day 10 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

‘When the battle becomes too much for me, I throw myself like a child into the arms of the Heavenly Father and trust I will not perish…I do not lose heart. I trust God’s grace, which abounds in the worst misery.’ (606)

Bad shame can trap us; the traditions of men are tricky. They may have truth on their side, but they forfeit the main rule which governs Jesus’ morality—Mercy for the sin-sick, who in turn extend Mercy out of a recognition of their own moral vulnerability.

How Jesus handled the woman caught in adultery exemplifies Mercy’s rule.

(Jn. 8:1-11) She had violated herself and others in adultery, a serious offense. Such a sin could cost you your life, a truth that the religious teachers and leaders knew and set before Jesus as to expose His aim to uphold both Mercy and Truth.

First, why is the woman brought before Jesus, and not also her male, (presumably) married partner? That may help decode the hearts of the religious. She had no advocate in contrast to the man and his family; in that culture, women (especially single ones) had almost no power and yet were thought to be nearly all-powerful in their ability to seduce men! I believe that Jesus is redressing this inequity here by advocating for her, the weaker party.

He did so by appealing to the moral vulnerability of all the accusers: ‘If you have never had a sinful, adulterous thought, then kill her; let the pure serve judgment!’ Perhaps drawing upon His definition of adultery which equates lustful thoughts with actions (Matt. 5:27-30), he commanded an examination of conscience. To their credit, the men heeded his challenge. Each dropped his stone.

As far as we know, only the woman held out her open hand for Mercy. Though set free from their condemnation, she was only freed from the sin of adultery by Jesus, who commanded her: ‘Go and leave your life of sin.’ (v.11) We presume she did. Mercy cleared away her accusers (the traditions of men), and made a way for her repentance.

Jesus’ love renders us all unfaithful; none are only true. Mercy frees us from ignorant accusers and frees us for a progressively true love born of Mercy.

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to help remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Lk. 6:42)

‘Jesus, we want to see reality the way You do. Give us Your eyes of Mercy, first to recognize our own unfaithfulness then to extend Mercy to others based on Your generous Mercy to us. Help us here, O God. Cleanse our adulterous, accusatory hearts; set us free for Mercy. Make us especially mindful of disempowered ones who are under the judgment of the powerful. Let Mercy have her perfect way in our hearts.’

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