The Mass to inaugurate the Year of Divine Mercy had been prepared by the parishioners with the help of the curate and a group of the Sisters of Mercy. The readings, the psalms and the prayer had all been chosen to echo the overall theme of asking God to give his loving mercy to all those present and to the whole world that would be lost without it. The visiting preacher came straight to the point. “Why waste your time praying for God’s Loving Mercy,” he said. “Whether you pray for it or not, his Loving Mercy has been sent out, is being sent out, and will continue to be sent out whether you pray for it or not. Why not save your breath to cool your porridge, or rather save your breath to pray rather that we will receive it!”
Many years ago I met a very holy Cistercian monk at Mbengwe in the Cameroon. He told me how one day after many years of spiritual darkness he became ill and was confined to bed in the monastic infirmary. “Why oh why has God abandoned me,” he asked himself time and time again? Then, after begging God’s mercy over and over again, he fell into what he could only describe to me as a weak but continuous ecstasy. “I was never totally taken out of myself,” he explained, “but despite my illness and despite all that was going on around me I was totally absorbed in God whose presence filled me from within.” Then on three distinct occasions just before he was given communion he heard these words, as clearly he said as you have been speaking to us in the church. The words were these: – ‘Only you have been keeping me out’!
In the Old Testament the word ‘hesed’ that is used to describe the Loving Kindness of God, is translated by the Latin word ‘gratia’ in the New Testament that gives birth to the English word ‘grace’. Fortunately nothing is lost in translation, in fact everything is gained. Now that thanks to Jesus, the Holy Spirit has been sent, and is continually being sent, his love is often referred to not as ‘hesed’ but ‘gratia’, or grace. In short it is the same love of God, but now thanks to the glorified Christ, it is sent out with the power to forgive the sinfulness that would otherwise keep him out. That’s why all the sacraments give ‘grace’, his Loving Mercy that first forgives the sins that would otherwise prevent him making his home within us, as he promised at the Last Supper.
The Jesuit mystic Jean Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) speaks of another sacrament through which God’s loving mercy can reach us, if we only knew it. It is what he called ‘the sacrament of the present moment’, because he insists every moment is the moment when God’s loving mercy is being poured out through Jesus, who has promised to remain with us to the end of time. So therefore there is now no moment in time when, if we only turn to receive it, that God’s grace cannot forgive us, to fill us with the love that our sinfulness has been keeping out.
A famous Rabbi used to tell the story of a carpenter who dreamed of a magnificent treasure that had been set aside for him alone. Without hesitation he set out to spend the rest of his life searching for what would make his dream come true. Tired and dejected he returned home at the end of his life empty handed. In his frustration he flung his tool bag down in front of his own fire place to see the floorboards split open. It was then that he saw the treasure for which he had spent his whole life searching, buried in front of his own hearth.
You do not need to go anywhere other than where you are to find the treasure that we all, deep down desire more than anything else. It is not just any love, but the love from which all other love has its origin, being made available here and now to everyone, who is prepared to give the daily space and time in which to learn how to receive it. This work will not take you away from your husband, your wife your children or any of your family, it will help you to love them more deeply and more dearly than ever before. Nor will it take you away from your work, it will enable you to work better and treat your work mates better than you did before.
Jesus promised that he had come, ‘that you may have life and have it with ever greater abundance (Jn 10:10).’ With this life suffusing your life with the life of God, then all things will be possible to you that were once quite impossible before. If you give the daily time for the prayer that will enable you to do this, then, in the year ahead, I will give you the ‘know how’ not from my experience, but from the experience of the great Christian Saints and mystics from the beginning, beginning with Jesus himself. This is how we can make this ‘Year of Divine Mercy’ a year that can change our lives permanently for the better.
Happy New Year!
David Torkington is the author of – ‘Wisdom from the Western Isles’, ‘Wisdom from Franciscan Italy’ and is just completing ‘How to Pray the Christian Way’.