From time to time, Father Dave cleans out his inbox and answers some questions of faith that people have emailed to him. In this podcast, he addresses an interesting question about mercy and grace:
“Is mercy like grace, in that it is freely offered, but requires a cooperative response? In other words, mercy is not an entitlement—it requires contrition and the intention to change one’s life to be fully efficacious. Is this a correct understanding?”
This one’s a doozy, so Father Dave starts by breaking down the jargon for us and defining the key terms: “So, I think the way this person described grace … is primarily correct — that grace is freely offered, but it does require us to accept it. Yes, God’s grace — God’s offer of redemption and new life in Christ — is completely free. We can’t earn it. We don’t have to jump through hoops to get it — it is offered to us, but we must accept it.”
In terms of what this acceptance means, Father Dave has an analogy: “If somebody is standing there with a beautifully wrapped gift and extends their arms, and you don’t take the gift from them … well, then, they’re not going to force you to take it. And that’s the way God works with grace.”
So with grace explained, Father Dave moves on to the question at hand: does mercy function in the same way as grace?
“I think what this person is describing using the word mercy, is more like our definition of the sacrament of Reconciliation,” Father Dave says. “In the sacrament of Reconciliation, it does require contrition — contrition meaning, I am looking at my life and I am sorry for this — and the intention to change one’s life … Those things are both required for the sacrament of Reconciliation.
“But mercy is a much broader concept than that … Mercy includes forgiveness, which is not [just confined to the sacrament of Reconciliation] because we can and should forgive people in our lives that have not asked for that and are not contrite and do not intend to change. We are still called to forgive them … But mercy is even broader than that. Mercy is tenderness, mercy is compassion for someone.”
So, in answer to the question, Father Dave’s verdict is, “No, mercy is not like grace in that sense — that it needs to be cooperated with. … Mercy is something that can be one way. God offers us mercy whether we cooperate with it or not, and asks us to do that as well.” (Original Air 01-20-17)