The quality of mercy
A few weeks ago I was invited to go and speak in a Category A prison near York and I was asked to talk about God’s mercy. I have been invited into several prisons but this was the first time I had been asked into such a tough place. I knew I would be facing men who had committed the most heinous of crimes and I was going to have the temerity to speak of mercy. My fears eventually dissolved and I had a great time with the men there but one of them said to me: ‘Have you any idea how hard it is to listen to you speak of God’s mercy when I know what I’ve done?’
I have reflected on that over the last weeks and have realised that mercy is probably the hardest of God’s attributes for any of us to accept. For some reason we would rather deal in terms of retribution than mercy. We would rather God paid us back for our sinfulness. Yet without mercy we have no Gospel. Without the truth of unconditional love that does not depend on any meritocracy, we have nothing to share with the world. If there is no forgiveness, there is no need for Christ. Mercy, as Pope Francis is always telling us, is central to the Gospel.
Lent is a great time for thinking about the mercy of God. The truth is that we all need mercy; yet probably the hardest truth of all is that it is there for the taking.
I think we need a theology which teaches us that when we do make mistakes, we can trust mercy and, as Ronald Rolheiser says, ‘take our place among the broken, among those whose lives are not perfect, the loved sinners, those for whom Christ came.’ We need to know that God loves us with all our faults and failings and to know that that the task of Christianity is to enable us to get up each morning and to live again because of the truth of God’s wonderful and unconditional mercy.