“His Mercy endures forever” are sweet words from the Psalmist (Psalm 107, et. al.), reminding us of the eternal gift of God’s Mercy. Does this mean we can break the rules, and because He’s a “merciful” God, there will be no consequences? Not at all, but a look at a story of mercy helps clarify the scope of this attribute of God.
The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a “blueprint of mercy”. Catholics who side with the parable’s elder son and hold that the father further indulged the younger son’s bad behavior by throwing a party upon his return miss a key element of the story. In “coming to his senses” (Luke 15:17), the younger son realizes that he’s done something worse than waste his monetary inheritance. He experiences even deeper regret at the broken relationship with his Heavenly Father and his earthly father. He takes responsibility for his actions, apologizes, and deep joy is shared by father and son at his return. (Luke 15:18-24) But the elder son was angered and would not join the celebration. Though he had always “followed the rules”, he too, needed to experience a conversion in order to enter into that God-given joy.
It is necessary for all Catholics to nurture our faith and realize that we are in “a state of conversion.” We either grow closer to God, or we fall away from Him. The first challenge of this Jubilee Year of Mercy is for us to “come to our senses” and grow in that self-knowledge of the ugly fact that I, too, am a sinner. Too harsh, you think? Come on Father, I’m a good person. But what would your spouse, children or coworkers say if you asked them, “Do you think I have any sins?” We would be surprised by their answers, but this truth “will set us free.” (John 8:32) We must have faith in this: God is bigger than our sins. Whether our sins are sins of passion and excess, like the younger son, or sins associated with pride, like the older son, God will forgive them if we humble ourselves and ask. The Mercy of God is readily available in the sacrament of confession, also known as “the sacrament of Mercy”. We delight God our Merciful Father when we go to confession. By confessing our sins, we give God the chance to remove those obstacles we have placed in our relationship with Him. The result of seeking mercy? Peace and joy: “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)