giving up mercilessness

Giving Up Mercilessness for Lent

Here we are: on the cusp of Lent. Many of us are pondering what to “give up”. There are the obvious choices: sweets, a bad habit, caffeine.

We must ask ourselves, however: will this really sanctify me? This is the purpose of Lent – to bring us closer to God, to make us holier. If we give up a bad habit, only to pick it right back again at Easter, does this help sanctify us?

We know this is the Year of Mercy. Pope Francis has done us a great favor by proclaiming this year. It gives us the opportunity to study and meditate upon what may be God’s greatest attribute: his merciful love for us.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this Lent, what we are meant to give up is mercilessness. From Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Mercy is the forgiveness of what need not or ought not to be forgiven. Indeed, mercy follows after, not before, both forgiveness and punishment. Mercy was never designed to minimize the heinousness of sins or to eliminate their possibility. It was meant to affirm their disorder. But their disorder did not prevent God from forgetting them to allow us to begin anew. Thus, God does not just “forgive” sins because He is merciful. He forgives them in the context of our realizing and acknowledging their disorder. Mercy is designed to encourage virtue, not to undermine it…

Mercy, paradoxically, can, if we are careless, become merciless. How so? Suppose an all-merciful God forgives all sins, whether repented or not. Everybody thus saves his soul automatically. We do not have to worry about what we do. The “merciful” God has already taken care of us whatever we do. Notice: no input on our part is required. God’s merciful love is said to be unrestricted. It is not limited by the distinction of good and evil.

A child would say, “But that’s not fair!” No, it’s not. For God to forgive everything, whether or not we repented, would be unjust. And God is always just. Mercy requires justice.

Think of it this way. A criminal is brought before a judge. The judge simply says, “There is no penalty for your crime. You are free.” Where is the justice for the victim? Where is the justice for the criminal? That criminal would have no opportunity to repent, to pay for his or her crime, to make restitution.

We cannot be careless with mercy. God is not. God is always merciful, but He is also just. This Lent, spend time meditating upon mercy: mercy in your home, at your workplace, in your heart. Am I careless with mercy? Where do I lack true justice and mercy?