“So this is the invitation that I address to everyone: Let us accept the grace of Christ’s Resurrection! Let us be renewed by God’s mercy! Let us be loved by Jesus! Let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.
“And so we ask the risen Jesus, who turns death into life, to change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace. Yes, Christ is our peace, and through him we implore peace for all the world.”
As we begin the second week of the Easter Season (yes, Easter is more than one day!) Pope Francis’ words are an excellent reminder of the transforming power of God’s love and its availability in our everyday lives. One way we can know that love is through God’s mercy.
This is the role the sacraments play for us — they are signs of God’s mercy. God has already forgiven us. God doesn’t need sacraments to forgive. Rather, we need the sacraments to remind us of God’s forgiveness. So, confession is really a time for us to experience God’s forgiveness and love and not an attempt to placate God from sending us to hell.
Pope Francis pointed this out recently when he said:
“Sometimes it may seem as though God does not react to evil, as if He is silent. And yet, God has spoken. He has replied and his answer is the Cross of Christ: a word which is love, mercy, and forgiveness. It is also a judgment, namely that God, in judging us, loves us. Let us remember this: in judging us, God loves us. If I embrace his love then I am saved, if I refuse it, then I am condemned. Not by him, but my own self, because God never condemns; He only loves and saves.”
In judging us … God loves us. Meaning God doesn’t condemn us but rather He loves us and wants what is best for us. So, God gives us the chance to learn from our mistakes. God gives us the Church to point us in the right direction and tell us what is good for us and what is not.
What might we love more than God? What do we think we are called to in our lives and are we including God in that decision? Where do we find ourselves least alive in the spirit and do we find ourselves returning there anyway?
St. Ignatius gave us a simple tool called the Examen, which enables us to look over our lives and see the times when we really felt alive and used all our gifts and talents for the greater glory of God. But we also see where we didn’t measure up, where we fell short of our own expectations. We then turn to God for mercy and experiencing that mercy intimately leads us to change. We learn through the Examen that God hopes for us to become our best selves, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.
Pope Francis is aiming in the same general direction in his many talks on mercy. The Church teaches that a “conversion of the heart, interior conversion,” is the source of a true change in our lives. It is this interior conversion — this knowledge not merely of the sins we commit, but of their effects on our whole person and their attempts at keeping us in desolation — that helps us know God’s mercy. And because of that, we should aim at moving toward consolation in our lives, knowing that there is nothing more satisfying than God’s mercy and love.
The first week of the spiritual exercises are set aside to look over one’s life and to become known as a “loved sinner.” It’s during this time that St. Ignatius reminds spiritual directors that they are, above all, to be merciful to those they direct.
And perhaps that is wise advice. After all, we all have our dark sides, the things we are ashamed and embarrassed by. We deeply feel our sins and dread that God is going to send us to hell for them. But in truth, what we need in our lives is to move away from that sentiment and move towards experiencing God’s mercy.
Only the forgiven truly know how to forgive. Much like in the sacrament of the Eucharist, in reconciliation, we too must become what we receive. As loved sinners we are also called to forgive. May Papa Francisco continue to remind us of our God’s invitation to forgiveness, personal repentance, and forgiveness in turn.