Tag Archives: The Virgin Mary

A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Reduced to Mercy

Kenn Gulliksen, my original pastor and founder of the Vineyard, once said: ‘When you’ve lost mercy, you’ve lost your calling as a Christian.’ He’s right. I tend to assess ‘mercy’ levels in my heart as a gauge of how I am doing as a Christian.

And God is always faithful to reduce me to mercy when I have majored on other things. He does this through suffering, through the slow boil of real life that tends to burn off extraneous things and distill what matters.

In cooking terms, a ‘reduction’ involves the intensifying or thickening of a liquid mixture through boiling it. Some things evaporate, thus concentrating the flavor.

I won’t bore you with details on my ‘boiling points’; we all have them, and they either reduce us to the flavor of Jesus or burn up what is good until all that remains is a bitter, proud survivor. Hurtling oneself through hell into a self-generated resurrection does not interest me!

Survival of the fittest offers no hope for the weak. The survivalist can only advise: ‘Unless you get tough like me, you will perish.’ That’s a gospel of a different sort. I reject self-reliance on the basis of Mercy.

Mercy is God’s heart.

Why else would He pour out His very essence into a young Jewish girl and manifest Himself as a baby? Helpless and naked, God became the most dependent of mammals, subject to despots and debasement of all sorts. He reduced Himself for us in order to show us the little way of Mercy.

He invites us to celebrate our smallness. Humbled by our own helplessness, we worship the Child-King and entrust ourselves to the power reduced into His tiny frame.

Madeline L’Engle says it like this: ‘Power. Greater power than we can imagine, abandoned, as the Word knew the powerlessness of the unborn child, still unformed, taking up almost no space in the great ocean of amniotic fluid, unseeing, unhearing, unknowing. Slowly growing as any human embryo grows, arms and legs and a head, eyes, mouth, nose, slowly swimming into life until the ocean in the womb is no longer large enough and it is time for birth.

Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, Christ, the Maker of the universe, willingly and lovingly leaving all that power and coming to this poor, sin-filled planet to live with us for a few years to show us what we ought to be and could be…to show us what it means to be made in God’s image.’

He invites us to marvel at His Mercy. God reduced to an infant is the essence of Divine Mercy. One Hebrew word for mercy is ‘hesed’, or ‘unfailing love’; it conveys an objective, rather masculine mercy from the God who keeps His covenant with us, even when we disobey Him. Another Hebrew word for mercy is ‘rachamin’, and is feminine, rooted in ‘a mother’s womb’. ‘Rachamin’ is the mercy God feels for His afflicted ones the way a mother aches for her wayward child.

Baby Jesus is the fruit of God’s strong and objective yet deeply caring mercy for us. Jesus is a reduction, a distillation of His all-consuming passion to manifest His love for us.

Similarly, our good and wise God will employ hard things in our lives to reduce us to Himself. He is intent on our becoming like Himself, through the gift of Himself. He may just use suffering to get us there.

Alluding to Simeon’s prophecy about the Virgin Mary (‘and a sword shall pierce your heart’), Christoph Schonburg writes: ‘Mary triumphs through the sword in her heart, not in her hand.’ Similarly, as Christ-bearers, in the spirit of Mary, we are not exempt from the sword that reduces us to Mercy.

Over the last year, I have been pierced in ways that have caused me to cast myself on Him as never before. My prayer: ‘Let Mercy triumph over my judgments!’

Annette and I were sharing with our dear friends, Mike and Diane Nobrega, about our boiling points. Diane wisely responded: ‘God’s Mercy is being distilled in you and Desert Stream. What seems like loss is Him intensifying the anointing.’

“Remember that old praise song, with a chorus that goes: Jesus, reduce me to love?’’ she said, warbling her version of the song ‘Charity’.

You bet we do! ‘Charity’ was the one big fat hit that our pastor Kenn Gulliksen wrote and recorded in the seventies. Stumbling through the lyrics, we four called Kenn via speaker phone and requested some help. He gave us a brave solo version of his one claim to pop fame.

He sang ‘Jesus, reduce me to love’ in a voice trembling from years of piercings and unexpected mercies. Having lived the lyrics, he made it easy to receive them.

May Jesus reduce you to love this Christmas. He reduced Himself to Mercy that we too might be reduced to little else—flavorful, intense, generous Mercy.

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Mercy for the Church

Day 34 of our 40 Days of Mercy Fast

Mercy for the Church

‘What a joy it is to be a faithful child of the Church! O how much I love Holy Church and all those who live in it! I look upon them as living members of Christ, who is their Head. I burn with love with those You love; I suffer with those who suffer. I am consumed with sorrow with those who are cold and ungrateful.’ (511)

Above all, St. Faustina was a child of the Church. She regarded the Church as she regarded herself—the least yet much loved member of it. When she declares: ‘I feel my own weakness and wretchedness in the most profound depths of my being…I can only endure such moments by trusting in the infinite Mercy of God’ (944), she lays the merciful, truthful foundation on which she loves the Church.

She describes in her diary a Church which is achingly beautiful, and yet broken, even dangerous in its wanderings. Her heart loves the good without guile and rejoices with it; she also possesses a wise and fearsome discernment for the compromised body of Christ

She accepts the Church in all its flaws as His dwelling place. Thus her heart beats in communion with His body, a syncopated rhythm indeed. In that way, St. Faustina emulates a truth we each must realize: to love the Church with a whole heart is to suffer. The Virgin Mary is our model here, whom Schonberg describes as triumphing ‘not with the sword in her hand, but in her heart.’

St. Fasutina’s life was Church life. ‘I do not live for myself alone, but for the entire Church.’ (1503) She knew that she had a part to play in making the Church a better place, one member among billions. Why? She understood the impact we have on each other as members of the same body. ‘The sanctity or fall of each individual soul has an effect upon the whole Church.’ (1475)

Pedigree did not move her. As a young, uneducated woman, she took her responsibility for the Church seriously. Its grandeur did not intimidate her, nor did its hypocrisy sway her from doing her part. That should challenge each of us. The Body is neither ‘big brother’ nor we its hapless victim. God looks upon each one of us and our offering as possessing profound significance; we must decide how we will exercise that power.

We can love the Church powerfully and well. St. Faustina did; in that love, God gave her painful sight as to its evil. Perhaps this to be the hardest thing about loving the Church: seeing things as they are, not as they should or could be.

She received this vision from Jesus. ‘Look and see the human race in its present condition…I saw horrible things—they struck the Lord mercilessly. These were priests, religious men and women, high Dignitaries of the Church.’ (445)

To St. Faustina, church leaders who abuse their office abuse Christ; they crucify Him afresh. Here is a timely word for the 21st century in a Church rife with scandal over the sexual abuse of children and its cover-up.

St. Faustina realized that the greater the authority, the greater church leaders impact its members. Like her, we are wise to take seriously our role in ensuring that leaders practice what they preach. They deserve respect when they live out their callings respectfully; they should be corrected when they lie against the truth.

In this hour of the Church’s exposure, God is calling us all to wake up to our responsibility ‘to provoke one another to love and good deeds’ (Heb. 10:24), including our leaders. Let us each do our part to expose sin so that Mercy, not judgment, might prevail in our midst.

‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to those through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves.’ (Lk. 17:1-3)

‘Jesus, give us Your heart for Your body. Open our eyes to her beauty and her brokenness, that we might love her well. Make us mature gifts to the Church; help us to discern both good and evil, and to love her wisely with all the Mercy You have shown us in our many contradictions.’

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 or simply a page number in parenthesis. 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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