Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy

Yesterday in my Christian Spirituality class, we discussed Ronald Rolheiser's book, The Holy Longing: The Search for A Christian Spirituality. I highly recommend it. In particular, we discussed the chapter on "Consequences of the Incarnation for Spirituality". As you may recall, last week I posted a selection from the Office of Readings describing Christ's descent into Hell.

Rolheiser includes a brief story from G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man:

A man who was entirely careless of spiritual affairs died and went to hell. And he was much missed on earth by his old friends. His business agent went down to the gates of hell to see if there was any chance of bringing him back. But though he pleaded for the gates to be opened, the iron bars never yielded. His priest also went and argued: 'He was not really a bad fellow, given time he would have matured. Let him out, please!' The gates remained stubbornly shut against all these voices. Finally, his mother came; she did not beg his release. Quietly, and with a strange catch in her voice, she said to Satan: 'Let me in.' Immediately the great doors swung open upon their hinges. For love goes down through the gates of hell and there redeems the dead.
This Sunday we contemplate and celebrate the Divine Mercy of Jesus Christ. For me, it is a mercy that is reflected in the greeting the Christ gave to those locked in the upper room. Even though they had abandoned Him in a time of need, He did not dwell on the past. "Peace be with you!"

He went on to say, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” When a court proceeding is dramatized, we often hear the judge sentence a criminal to death by saying, "May God have mercy on your soul." What I have come to find particularly interesting about that statement is that it somehow presupposes that we are permitted to simply delegate forgiveness to God. That it is OK to 'write off' someone because of their actions, and let God take it from there.

I have come to realize that it is not OK. As difficult, painful, unfair, and even impossible as it may be for me to actually forgive someone for something he or she does, that is what I am called to do. I recall the days that followed the Virginia Tech shootings. Perhaps you do as well. Since I only live two hours from the campus, the news coverage was even more intense. I remember one night in particular, I was sitting on my bed, surfing the Internet. I came across a photo of the shooter. He had a gun in each hand and was staring intensely into the camera. I stared back. I remember being struck, stunned, jarred by the stare. I remember thinking, "What could be going on behind that cold, evil stare?" However, as much as I deplored what he had done, I could not deplore Seung-Hui Cho.

I found myself praying, "God, this is one of your children. I pray that this troubled young man finds rest in your arms." And a sense of peace came over me. I knew that God took it from there. As I reflected upon that event over the ensuing months, I have come to a deeper appreciation of what happened. Rolheiser does a much better job of articulating what I have come to realize than I ever could:

The view of the incarnation being proposed here never says that we forgive sins, that we bind and loose, that we heal each other, or that we anoint each other. It is Christ, working through us, who does this. The power is still with God, not with us, but in the incarnation God has chosen, marvelously, to let his power flow through us, to let our flesh give reality to his power.

I just pray that God will give me the grace to be an instrument of His peace. I pray that in the face of injustice and injury, he gives me the grace to say, "Peace be with you!" I pray that he gives me the grace to treat others justly and charitably, so that I am not in need of his Mercy. However, I pray that when I inevitably fall short of the mark and do stumble, that His merciful arms are there to pick me up, hold me, and send me back on my way - his way!

Thanks be to God! Alleluia, Alleluia!

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