Pope Francis has declared December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016 the Year of Mercy. For me, mercy brings to mind forgiveness. God’s repeated and inexhaustible forgiveness is perhaps one of the greatest mercies He affords us. That even though sinners, we are not only forgiven, but saved by His Son. I would venture to say that all of us are in need of God’s merciful forgiveness; however, many of us are also desirous of receiving this mercy from someone we’ve wronged, or in need of offering it to someone who has wounded us.
The declaration of this year’s theme, ignites within me a hope of God’s mercy being poured out on my life, but it also demands an examination of my conscience. It beckons for me to take stock of any unforgiveness residing in my heart, any hardness. It suggests that it is time to bring these items out of the darkness, where they are covered in the cobwebs of my stubbornness, anger, or pain, and place them in the light. To grapple with them, working them through with the Lord, until they darken my heart no longer. Until I am free of them. Isn’t that always the goal of our Mother, the Church? To guide us to true and complete freedom? For only when we are truly free will we ever be truly happy. I want freedom. But, do I want to do the work of assessing the darkest parts of my life, seeing again, in my mind’s eye, those who have hurt me most? I can’t say that I want this. However, if I want the end goal, I must be willing to trod the path necessary to get there.
For me, Pope Francis’ announcement was strangely timed. One of those coincidences that could only be attributed to the Divine. You see, August 28, the feast of St. Augustine, marked the two year anniversary of the night I was sexually assaulted. These last two years have been the most arduous and dark of my Christian journey, as I ventured to do exactly as the Year of Mercy calls us to do. That I am here on the other side, a new creation, living and breathing in the light, filled with joy, hope, and an insatiable trust in the Lord is most certainly a mercy and a miracle. There were times I could but cling to the Lord. I couldn’t see Him, feel Him, talk to Him. We just went on beside each other. The Lord descended into hell with me more times than I’d like to count those two years. Each time bringing me back from the land of the dead. I made horrible choices out of pain. I was angry and confused. Still He stayed with me.
In the midst of it all, I promised myself that I would never allow the depression, or my confusion of “how God could allow this to happen to me,” to keep me from the Sacraments. I determined that I would go to Confession at least once a month and attend Mass every Sunday, though I felt nothing for the one to whom I was united in the Eucharist. I was numb to His grace; and yet, His grace flowed still. And thus, united with the Lord, I chose to do the hard work of grappling with the difficult questions. Struggling through the ugliness, the self-hatred, the pain, the distrust, and the non existent willfulness to live. So many times I thought how easy it would be to give up, on God, on life, to just quit. But, instead, by God’s mercy, I fought back. Sometimes, the victory was simply to make it through the day before me. Other days, I worked with God toward the forgiveness I desired, for myself, for my assailant, for God.
It may seem blasphemous to suggest that I needed to forgive the Lord, but you’ll note, I did not say that God was in any way in need of my forgiveness, but I was most certainly in need of forgiving Him. I loved God, but my whole world seemed turned upside down after the assault. And while, I knew He loved me and did not desire for me to be harmed, that it was my assailant’s misuse of his free will alone that led to my assault, I still needed to go through the motion of forgiving the God I loved, for what happened to me. How merciful is our Lord, that He will climb back up on that Cross for us, become the wrongfully accused criminal once more, allow us to blame Him, be angry with Him, and question His motives. And still, the words from His mouth remain…Forgive them, Father…for they know not what they do.
Is there anything more merciful?
God has shown me repeatedly that He is truly a God of mercy, and a God who calls His people to be merciful. I am grateful to stand freely in the light, following two years of grave darkness, full of nothing but a pure love for God, forgiveness for my assailant, and a trustful surrender to the Lord’s plans for me. However, I am not off the hook. In each of us, there remains a need for greater mercy. As we prepare for this Jubilee Year, may we search for any unforgiveness in our hearts, for our journey to mercy begins there. May we do the hard work of bringing it to the light and allowing God to transform it. Once released from these chains, may we ask the Lord to show us where in our lives we are in need of His mercy, and beg Him for it in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and then may we ask Him to show us how He is calling us to move forward, living more fully in the light of His mercy.