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Pardoning offenses becomes the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves.
—Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is described as healing “the blind, the lame,” and what some translations refer to as “the maimed” (15:30).
This phrase jumped out at me when I recently read this passage. I let it wash over me during my early morning meditation, and as I prayed, I realized something.
My heart is maimed.
Like all human hearts, it has been injured by original sin, concupiscence, wounds from others, and my own sin.
I felt inspired to quickly go through the narrative of my life and I picked out four people I have not forgiven. When I imagine their faces, I still feel my heart immediately harden with anger, bitterness and, in some cases, disgust.
One particular person hurt me almost twenty years ago. But I have never relived the injury with Jesus. I have not brought my maimed heart before God in prayer in order to allow him to heal that wound.
I don’t regularly think of this person, but I know that the hurt still lurks in the background of my interactions with others, unconsciously pushing me to irrational anger, to lashing out, or to withdrawing in fear from various situations.
As the Year of Mercy begins, I feel an invitation to turn my wounded heart over to Jesus to be healed, so that I may become more like him: both merciful and forgiving.
If you have not read the beautiful letter from Pope Francis for the Year of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, I highly recommend that you do.
As I read the letter, I noticed how many times Pope Francis connects the virtue of mercy with forgiveness.
Several times, Pope Francis describes forgiveness as the vehicle through which we can be merciful and God is merciful to us.
As I read the letter, I realized that sometimes I see forgiveness as just one of the many things I “should” do because I am a Christian. But when God asks us to be merciful by forgiving others, he is not asking us to do this simply because it is the right thing to do. But because forgiveness is the right thing to do, it is a path to joy. And God wants us to have joyful hearts.
Pope Francis writes that mercy is “a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace.”
Sometimes in our world, merciful hearts are mocked. A merciful heart is seen as a weak heart. Rather, it is righteous anger that seems to be the preferred expression of courage.
We trust righteous anger; we do not trust merciful hearts.
For many of us, the first recourse before, during and after conflict is not to humbly seek the forgiveness of God and to forgive others. Rather, it is to blow our tops, to rage and rant, and to demand justice without a drop of mercy (which, as Aquinas would tell us, is not true justice).
Why is this?
Because mercy is much more difficult.
Mercy is the path of the truly courageous. It is not a virtue that makes us a doormat, a weakling or a pansy. It is the virtue that heals our wounded hearts so that we can respond to others like Christ—with assertiveness, love, objectivity, and peace.
Pope Francis writes: “In [the Gospel], mercy is presented as a force that overcomes everything, filling the heart with love and bringing consolation through pardon” (emphasis mine).
Through forgiveness, mercy is the force that overcomes everything.
Mercy and forgiveness are the oils the Lord uses to heal our wounds. Our wounds never completely go away, but they make us stronger, rather than weaker, more open, rather than afraid and closed, more peaceful rather than fearful and angry.
In this Year of Mercy, may we allow our maimed hearts to be healed by our Divine Physician with the oil of mercy, so that we may become more like Christ for others.
Most sacred, forgiving Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church. She recently pronounced her first vows with the Daughters of Saint Paul. She blogs at Pursued by Truth.