Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart

Divine Mercy and the Sacred Heart

This Friday (June 23) is the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart. The following was initially written for Divine Mercy Sunday but is completely appropriate for the Sacred Heart. The Sacred Heart is a devotion that recalls Jesus’ immense love for each person. He became man and entered into every aspect of our reality except sin. He suffered disappointment and loss, betrayal and abandonment, and endured emotional, mental, spiritual and physical anguish to break through the walls of self-exile we had put up to separate us from His love.

Because of the Incarnation the Sacred Heart is a human heart. God’s love crosses a bridge to really, truly be with us. Crossing that divide is what makes Divine Love Divine Mercy. Saint Thomas Aquinas said mercy is, “the compassion in our hearts for another person’s misery, a compassion which drives us to do what we can to help him.” (Summa Theologiae, II-II. 30.1) Compassion means “to suffer with.” Divine Mercy saw our misery and was driven to climb down into the deepest darkness of a fallen world to suffer with us and draw us to His Sacred Heart.

 

Divine Mercy

 

“God’s mercy is like water, it always flows to the lowest place.”

                                                                                                –Father Michael Gaitley

 

I know this is true, because I have experienced it firsthand.

 

In the fall of 2012 I enrolled in a monthly theology certificate class offered by The Theological Institute for the New Evangelization. It was more like a monthly retreat than a class. I do not mean to downplay the scholastic rigor of the course. Indeed, I was taught a great deal about my Catholic faith and, more important, I discovered how little I knew. But the context of the learning was deeply spiritual and directed all learning not just to the head, but to the heart as well. Those eight Saturdays were like an oasis in a desert.

At that point in my life I had been in a spiritual and emotional desert. My wife and I lost our first-born son Ronan in 2006 and as much as I’d like to claim that I handled the loss with strength and dignity, I must be honest and admit that my coping was anything but strong or dignified. I was in a pit, in the desert, and in my blindness and deafness I remained mostly unaware of my own pitiful plight. I apologize, but I’m opting to spare you the details regarding the nature of the hole (holes) I had dug. As much as I’d like to write a Saint Augustine style Confession, I’m afraid I lack the courage. Besides that, I think we all know to some degree what it looks like to deal with pain in all the wrong ways.

It was in this context that I sat one Saturday morning listening to Dr. David Franks open the class with a meditation on a scriptural passage. I don’t recall which, though I think it might have been from Hebrews. During the reflection, he made the point that we were getting better all the time—that if we honestly reflected on where we are now compared to the past we would see that we were improving every day. He said it so earnestly and with so much love. And it made me furious to hear these words. Not furious at him, no. Dr. Franks was and is one of the many instruments God used to call me to life again. And I wasn’t furious at Jesus either, because I desperately wanted what Dr. Franks said to be true and even in darkness I knew Jesus was the only way it could be. I wasn’t even upset at myself because, let’s face it, if there is one person I am always good at understanding, bearing patiently, and forgiving, it’s me. All I know is that I was sitting there, trying to contemplate words that should have been a consolation, yet I was festering with rage. How could I be getting better? Doesn’t he know how wretched I am? I couldn’t understand my reaction and it took quite some time to understand why.

The “why” was fear.

Because mercy is like water.

Let me explain. God’s mercy, like water, seeks out the lowest place. His Love for every human person draws Him to those most in need of His mercy. Mercy is what Love looks like when it meets our brokenness. It flows to the lowest point, cleanses, soothes, refreshes, and heals. Jesus’ mercy, poured out for all from His pierced side, flows infinitely. It is not a mere trickle moistening the wall of the pit but an immense ocean. When we first encounter His mercy it consoles. But as the waters rise, He desires that we be swept up in them. His mercy is not there to make the pit comfortable, but to draw us out of it to new life, abundant life—to freedom.

But that first moment when the deluge of Divine Mercy causes our feet to lose contact with the bottom is frightening. I fought it with anger (among other things) because I did not know where the tide would take me and I didn’t care to find out. God’s timing, however, is perfect. Around the time of hearing Dr. Franks’ words, I also came to understand true devotion to the Blessed Mother. Nothing quiets fear and anger quite like the love of a mother. By the intercession and guidance of the Mother of Mercy, I could let go and trust in the mercy of Jesus. It didn’t matter so much what I had done or how wretched I wrongly believed I was (with apologies to “Amazing Grace,” no human being is a wretch). Mercy, not me, was doing the work of making me better day by day—of lifting me out of the pit. Divine Mercy does that for each of us.

The world needs mercy now more than ever. I pray that you will be like Dr. David Franks, and bring mercy to those who need it. And I pray that you will have no fear of letting the infinite ocean of Jesus’ mercy take you wherever it might.

Jesus, I trust in you.

Standing on this mountaintop
Looking just how far we’ve come
Knowing that for every step
You were with us
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
Kneeling on this battle ground
Seeing just how much You’ve done
Knowing every victory
Was Your power in us
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Never once did we ever walk alone
Carried by Your constant grace
Held within Your perfect peace
Never once, no, we never walk alone
Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful
Every step we are breathing in Your grace
Evermore we’ll be breathing out Your praise
You are faithful, God, You are faithful

The Big Cuppers

The Big Cuppers

Does God love some people more than others? In one sense, no, He doesn’t. After all, God is love. When we love each other we are actually participating in God’s love. Because of this we can choose to participate in that love more or less or even not at all. But God is infinite and God is love. Saying God loves one person more than another makes no sense because His love is already infinite. Infinity plus one is still infinity.

On the other hand, God seems to make more of His infinite love available to some people. There are some people who feel a near constant awareness of God’s love for them and many who don’t. Saint Therese made an analogy to explain this. Even though she was talking about the different glories that await each of us in Heaven, I (hopefully with the Little Flower’s blessing) want to paraphrase her here. Imagine a large cup and next to it is a thimble. They’re both filled  to the brim with water. They hold different amounts but it would be impossible to add anything to either container. Our capacity to experience God’s love is like that. Some of us have big cups, some have thimbles. Some have oceans, some have eye droppers. But all are full. So what is the secret that the big cuppers hold?

I don’t think the secret is trying to get God to love you more. That’s impossible. Our list of accomplishments, merits, awards, talents, important jobs, good grades, the number of friends we have, big paychecks, good deeds—none of it can increase God’s love for us, which is already infinite. Jesus gives us the secret to having a greater capacity to be loved by Him with the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In the parable Jesus tells us about two men praying in the temple: a self-righteous Pharisee who thanks God for making him better than everyone else and a humble tax collector who asks God for mercy. The Pharisee falls short not just because he is judgmental and dismissive of the tax collector. If we get caught up on the “judge not” message alone we will miss something hugely important. Yes, the Pharisee is wrong to judge, but he misses the mark even further by thinking he has earned God’s love by his tithing, fasting and self-righteousness. He is completely blind to his unworthiness and closed off to mercy. We can often be like the Pharisee in this second sense. True, we tend not to judge the “tax collectors” in our lives because we are good and decent people. But we can fall into the trap of believing that everything is ok. That we don’t need Jesus’ mercy every hour of every day. That crying out to God is for other people, people with problems. Not us. We too can be closed off to mercy.

The tax collector, aware of his brokenness, is open to receive mercy. “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner” is the motto of the big cuppers. The saints (just a fancy word for big cuppers) all had in common a profound awareness of their own sin and brokenness. From the outside this can look like hand-wringing guilt, but nothing could be further from the truth. Declarations like “Lord I need You!” and “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” are the secret to experiencing the fullness of God’s love and the freedom from anxiety, abundant joy and peace that only Christ can give.

Healer

Healer

When I was a kid I thought Jesus healed leopards. They called them leopards because their skin was covered in spots. Obviously. And a leopard can’t change his spots (that saying actually comes from Jeremiah 13:23) so Jesus preformed the miracle of changing their spots for them. I really did believe this until I learned what leprosy really was (and still is). It’s generally accepted that the ancient disease was caused by the same bacteria as the modern one, mycobacterium leprae. It is still around in many parts of the world but unlike in Jesus time, it is extremely treatable. Leprosy was so feared that people suffering from it were exiled from their community and forced to warn others when they approached. Many other skin conditions were lumped in with leprosy too. It makes me think twice before I complain about my psoriasis. After all, I don’t have to live in a leper colony (although living in a leopard colony would be kinda cool).

There is a biblical connection between leprosy and sin. In the Old Testament leprosy is seen as a punishment for sin. The gospels point to leprosy not as an effect of sin, but as an analogy for it. Like sin it is ugly, it disfigures, it can spread and it separates us—separates us from each other and from God. And just as Jesus, in his mercy, desired to free the ten lepers of their physical disease, he also desires to free us from our spiritual disease. If only we have the courage to echo the words of the lepers, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” Christ wants to set us free, wants to heal us. But he waits for our permission to act.

Saint Francis of Assisi, whose memorial we observed this week, was absolutely repulsed by leprosy and sufferers of leprosy. Early in his radical conversion he met a leper on the road and knew what he had to do. He gave the man money, embraced him and kissed his sores. In that moment he realized that he was embracing and kissing Jesus. In an instant Saint Francis’ sin of indifference and aversion to suffering was healed. We have access to the same sanctifying grace and healing in the sacraments. We only need to ask.