Today can be called the Sunday of Merciful Love. The Divine Mercy is brought before our eyes in manifold ways it the propers of the Third Sunday after Pentecost. This liturgy predates the feast of the Sacred Heart, so it is something of a divine arrangement that the Feast of our Lord’s Heart would immediately precede this Sunday which so much extols his merciful charity to sinners. The theme is taken up straightaway in the Introit: “Look Thou upon me, O Lord, and have mercy on me; for I am alone and poor. See my abjection and my labor; and forgive me all my sins….”
True Notion of Mercy. The Mass texts today instruct us on the true notion of God’s mercy and not the sentimental notion so popular today, which is that there is guaranteed and unconditional mercy for all, and that God’s mercy makes no demands of us. This pseudo-mercy is an affront to God’s justice, and to His holiness. The Collect sums up the right doctrine concerning God’s mercy: “O God, the protector of all that trust in Thee, without whom nothing is strong, and nothing is holy, multiply Thy mercies upon us; that having Thee for our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, so that we lose not those which are eternal.”
Note that God’s mercy comes upon those who trust in God. There has to be Christian hope for us to benefit from God’s mercy in the end. Of course, God’s mercy brings us to Faith, Hope, and Charity, so it has to precede our cooperation. Nevertheless, it will not work in spite of our cooperation. As Saint Augustine said, “God, who redeemed you without your cooperation will not save you without your cooperation.” Next, the prayer assures us that nothing is strong or holy without God. God’s mercy, then, makes us strong and holy. Finally, the prayer asks that God’s mercy will make Him our ruler and guide to lead us through the dangers of the world – “temporal things” – to those things which are eternal in heaven. We can simplify this to say that God’s mercy is a response to our own misery which we freely acknowledge and which we strive to overcome through His help. The word “mercy” comes from “misery,” with the word “heart” making its way into the etymology, too. In Latin, misery (or wretchedness) is miseria. To that we add the word for heart, cor, and we get misericordia, mercy. Mercy is having a heart for someone else’s misery. And who is a better example of that than the Sacred Heart Himself?
God’s mercy is not unconditional. We must hope in it; we must pray for it; we must cooperate with it; and we must acknowledge that without it we cannot be strong or holy.
The Epistle. St. Peter’s Epistle gives us further instruction on mercy. We must humble ourselves in order to receive God’s mercy. We must cast our anxiety upon God because he cares for us. Here, St. Peter is quoting Psalm 54, a prayer of King David for deliverance from his enemies. “Cast thy care upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall not suffer the just to waver for ever. [speaking of his enemies:] But thou, O God, shalt bring them down into the pit of destruction. Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; but I will trust in thee, O Lord.”
Again, the notion is that we need to approach God in prayer and in Faith to receive his mercy. Then St. Peter warns us about the Devil who goes about as a roaring lion to destroy us. We must resist him “strong in faith” – fortes in fide – which, by the way, is the motto of our Order. Persevering in Faith, we can hope that, after we have suffered “a little while,” God will perfect, strengthen, and establish us. This “little while” is like the “little while” Our Lord told the Apostles of after the Last Supper. It is our whole earthly life, however long that will be. But in light of eternity, it is only a little while. We need to take courage that after we fight it out just a bit more, we have all eternity to celebrate our victory.
The Gospel. The Gospel teaches us similar lessons about mercy. We will not go into detail about the parable of the lost sheep or the parable of the woman and the drachma. Instead, I will point out two details from the beginning and end of the passage. What is it that scandalizes the Pharisees and occasions our Lord’s telling these parables? It is that Our Lord “welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Sacred Heart enters the banquet with sinners. Such an act of mercy horrifies the proud pharisees, whose very name, by the way, means “separated ones.” Perhaps they failed to notice that Jesus preached repentance to these sinners. That, by the way, is what modern commentators miss, too. Coming at these parables from the wrong direction, they would have Jesus preaching a mercy without repentance, a mercy without faith, a mercy without hope: in short, an unconditional mercy. We should notice something St. Luke begins the chapter with: “The publicans and the sinners were drawing near to Him to listen to Him.” Jesus had something to say that could save them from their sins. In cleaving to Jesus and in listening to (and not merely hearing) his words, they availed themselves of the Divine Mercy. When sinners hear the word of God and respond in Faith, Hope, and Charity, they feast at the banquet of the Sacred Heart. That is occasion for the angels to rejoice.