Here is the latest column by Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska, reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.
Mercy may seem reckless to us at times. Mercy trusts those who have proven themselves untrustworthy, those who have failed us. Mercy loves those who acted without love. Mercy hopes in those for whom it seems all hope is lost.
Mercy seems reckless. It seems counter-intuitive. Mercy seems, very often, like a naïveté—like a choice only made by those who do not understand the world.
Very often, we question the practice of mercy. A wife forgives an unfaithful husband, and her friends call her a fool. A man gives money to those on the street, and his family warns that the money will be spent on alcohol or drugs. If we befriend the weak, or the elderly, or the unborn, or the disgraced, the world believes we are wasting our time.
But God is merciful. God trusts us, even when we have failed him. God hopes in us, even when we disappoint. God loves us, with love beyond measure, even when we do not believe that we are worthy of his love.
God is not merciful because he is reckless. God is merciful because we are his children. God is merciful because we are made in his image; in God’s sight, we are worthy of his sacrificial love, for the sake of our redemption. God’s mercy is a mystery. But the mystery of God’s mercy gives us new life.
Our lives are often messy, complicated, and disappointing. Very often, we have the sense of being unloved. Our sins can leave us depressed and despondent: without a sense of meaning, or purpose, or hope. Unhappiness, rootlessness, and loneliness seem often to be endemic to the human condition. But, as Archbishop Charles Chaput so often reminds us, mercy gives us “a new life in God’s friendship.”
There is nothing more profound than receiving the mercy of God. And in his grace, we can receive his mercy through the sacramental life of the Church. Pope Francis says that the sacraments—especially the sacrament of confession—are the “bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
St. Paul says that, at all times, “God is rich in mercy, because of his great love.” In the sacrament of confession, God reminds us that his love has no conditions, no bounds, and no exceptions.
There is no sin too great for the Lord to forgive. No matter what we’ve done, he loves us. In the holy sacrament of confession, mercy conquers our sinfulness.
Mercy forgives, and it strengthens, and comforts, and restores. Mercy is not reckless, because mercy prepares us to leave our sinfulness behind, and to love as God loves, in faithfulness and freedom. Mercy sets us free for new lives of holiness and joy.
Blessed John Henry Newman wrote that the sacraments are the “keys which open the treasure-house of mercy.” Newman said that the sacraments are “means and pledges of grace.” In the sacrament of confession, God gives us the grace of his mercy, and pledges to continue that mercy—to remain with us, present to us to make us perfect—to unite us to him in holiness through the mystery of his love.
In the sacrament of confession, God offers us the key to the treasure-house of mercy.
On March 4 and 5, the Cathedral of the Risen Christ will celebrate “24 Hours for the Lord.” For twenty-four hours, confessions will be heard in the Cathedral, and the Lord will be present. He will also be present to us in sacred adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist, exposed on the altar.
In the sacrament of confession, God enters our hearts, and, if we allow him, gives us new lives in his friendship. No matter how long it has been since we’ve last confessed our sins, he is waiting. I pray that each one of you will enter the treasure-house of God’s mercy in the sacrament of confession this Lent—at “24 Hours for the Lord,” or at your parish.
God’s mercy frees us, and gives us peace. As Blessed John Henry Newman wrote, “Oh what piercing, heart-subduing tranquility, provoking tears of joy, is poured, almost substantially and physically upon the soul, the oil of gladness, as Scripture calls it, when the penitent at length rises, his God reconciled to him, his sins rolled away for ever!”
God is rich in the mystery of mercy. May we encounter that mercy in the holy sacrament of confession!