The sacrifice acceptable to God

Friday, July 15, 2016

Author: Sr. Giovanna Mariae, S.V. & Fr. Patrick Mary Briscoe, O.P.

“We keep looking for God, but God is there before us, always looking for us, and he finds us first. Maybe one of you feels something weighing on your heart. You are thinking: I did this, I did that.... Do not be afraid! God is waiting for you! God is a Father and he is always waiting for us!” Pope Francis

The Sisters of Life have the great privilege of walking with women seeking perspective, peace, and reconciliation after an abortion experience. Some of the women attend special days of prayer offered by the sisters to support this journey. At the end of these days the women have the opportunity to place a rose in front of an image of Jesus, the Divine Mercy image. It is often a very powerful moment of grace, where they have a tangible way to entrust their child, and their own lives to He who is Mercy.

One sister recalls in particular the witness of a young woman who came to one of these days. Sr. Giovanna recalls:

“Lily” came to us suffering greatly after her abortion. She was trapped in self-condemnation, and struggled with deep sadness, regret, and a sense of helplessness. I will never forget as she approached with her rose. She knelt before the image and began to weep – it was unlike any weeping I have ever heard…she was finally able to give the tears permission to fall, and with them the sorrow, pain, and grief she felt in the wake of her abortion.

As I watched, my heart was deeply moved with what seemed paradoxical emotions – a certain bitter-sweetness. The bitterness was a rending compassion I felt at the great grief and loss she experienced and expressed. The sweetness I experienced told of the powerful action of mercy unfolding before me. My heart knew I was witnessing a fulfillment of God promise to us – His Divine Mercy. Through this act of faith she gave God the Father an opportunity He eagerly waits for – that of embracing His beloved son or daughter with all their sins, pain, and wounds, making them all new through the gift of His love and mercy. I realized the Lord had given me the grace to witness the purest and sweetest offering – the only sacrifice He asks for, as it says in Psalm 51:17, that of a “broken spirit…a broken contrite heart O God, thou will not despise…

His name is Mercy

Pope Francis’ recent Bull on the Jubilee of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus) beautifully tells us that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy,” and he exhorts us to be “merciful like the Father.” According to Saint John Paul II’s encyclical on mercy – Dives et Misericordia, the definition of mercy is rooted in two Hebrew words. Hesed, meaning a steadfast, or covenant love, and rachamim, a tender, compassionate love. Indeed, we can be confident that we do not have a God who holds us at arm’s-length or stands afar off watching us with indifference as we face suffering in our lives. Rather, we have a God who looks after us with the attention, tenderness, and fidelity of a good Father. We have a God who, like water, seeks to descend into the darkest and most wounded parts of our hearts and souls; a God who works at every turn to renew and transform us into the image we were created in: the glorious Divine image of Himself. As Pope Francis says, “ mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself merely to affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us,” (Misericordiae Vultus).  

Man was made for more

You see the cookie jar. It’s your favorite kind – ooey gooey chocolate chip. You eat one. And another. And then another. After the sixth, the delight and pleasure fades and something different starts settling in… “ARRGGH!” Deep frustration comes up from within. “Why did I do that? I didn’t need all those cookies, I didn’t even want them to begin with!” the disappointment flares. You start feeling sick, which only compounds the feelings of anger, shame, and humiliation at your weakness. Despite your resolve to eat more balanced at breakfast - lunch found you overdoing it again...

Living according to our dignity and the universal call to holiness is a challenge and struggle we can expect to face every day. Weakened by the effects of original sin, it is not a battle we can fight on our own. We need the strength that comes through prayer, and the grace that comes from God to avoid getting trapped in the snares of the evil one. His tactics never change – he tempts, and allures with lies – at which point we are faced with a choice. Sometimes we stand fast, other times we take the bait, and fall. What’s his next move? He fires arrows of accusation and condemnation aimed to bind us in hopelessness and despair. He wants to deceive and provoke us to wrap our identity around our greatest weakness and darkest sin. He will do whatever he can to cloud the greatest truth and reality: the Father’s unconditional love for us. Furthermore, he wants to prevent us from cultivating the most important relationship in our lives: the covenant bond of love between us and God. Ultimately when man loses sight of God, he loses sight of the truth of himself, and will cease to strive for the beauty, goodness, and glory God has created him for.

 

 

Getting back up again  

At the outset, sin promises a lot, but while our sins might feel good in the moment, sin, great or small, will always leave us empty.

There are many ways we respond to the event of sin in our lives. Most of them can find a home in the following three categories:

1) Pride – we harden our hearts, convince ourselves it was no big deal, and deny the pangs our conscience feels. Often this leads to patterns of habitual sin, committing sins that are increasingly graver, and ultimately serves to drive us further and further away from God and those that love us most.

2) Despair and Discouragement – we start believing in the lies of the evil one – those voices we can be sure will come to assail us after we have fallen. What does his voice sound like? “You are no good,” “you are hopeless,” “I can’t believe you did that, there’s no use trying to recover from that,” “God could never forgive you…” Where do they lead us? Places of despair, discouragement, hopelessness, and helplessness, and an identity based on shame, guilt, and condemnation. If these are the sentiments of our heart, and the voices bouncing around in our minds, we can be confident they do not come from God. Simply reject them and replace them with the truth and freedom found in the voice of Christ – “I am with you always (Mt 28:20),” “neither do I condemn you, now go and do not sin again (John 8:11),” “if anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37),” “be not afraid (Luke 2:10).”

3) We turn Him who is Mercy – after we fall, we stop and take a moment to understand what just happened. We humbly acknowledge the truth of our action before God, and then we do what Jesus told St. Faustina to do whenever she sinned - immediately “ rise again to glorify God’s mercy.” We dare to believe in who He is – a Father with open arms, waiting to embrace us in a mercy inexhaustible. This is where we find the grace and strength we need to begin again.

And how can we be sure? Christ’s sacrifice couldn’t paint a clearer picture of how beloved and precious we are to the Father. He sent His only Son to suffer and die for us, so that we might be redeemed. We have only to claim this incredible gift of our redemption waiting to be expressed and poured into our lives by way of mercy.

The gift of Mercy  

We don’t deserve mercy. We don’t earn it. It is given to us freely and abundantly, because our good Father knows we need it. Cultivating a sense of this need in our lives is the key to holiness and true freedom. The more habitually we cry out to God after we have fallen, and with sincere hearts ask Him, “have mercy on me God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions (51:1)” the more deeply we experience His love and compassion and become more fully rooted in this relationship that allows us to discover the fullness of our dignity in God’s eyes. It is by way of God’s mercy we can live as the Apostles after Pentecost - full of peace, freedom and joy, secure in the love of the Father. True courage is being willing to listen to God’s voice – active in that sacred place He meets us in our conscience. It is in putting our wills behind His words of guidance, and His nudges towards repentance.

Behold, I make all things new.

Returning to the experience of Lily, Sr. Giovanna continues:

After the day of prayer I was able to speak with Lily. She was hardly the same woman that walked in at the beginning of the day. Her face and eyes were filled with light, the shame and sorrow that filled her countenance before was transformed into a new dignity and innocence. She had truly been made new. And while she knew there was still a long road ahead in healing and forgiveness, she had the peace, hope, and support to move forward in the journey to which God called her.

After His resurrection, Christ began appearing to His disciples. Despite the witness of his fellow apostles Thomas insisted, " unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe " (John 20:25). And sure enough, the Lord appeared, stood among them, and said to Thomas " put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing (John 20:27)." May we also be believing, and with a full and bold faith present ourselves whole and entire to Christ – allowing this mystery of Redemption to proclaim its victory over every place of weakness, darkness, and sin within us.

Some Spiritual Exercises…

-Number 1458 in the Catechism offers that “ man and sinner are, so to speak, two realities: when you hear "man" - this is what God has made; when you hear "sinner" - this is what man himself has made …” The sacrament of confession gives us grace and strength to help us live the Christian life, heals us, and reestablishes our relationship with God. Set aside a time this week to go to confession.

-Before you go, look at this Guide to Confession -

http://www.ourcatholicfaith.org/downloads/Guide%20To%20Confession.pdf , and take the time to let the Lord show you where He wants to bring His grace and make you new.

 

Media corner…

-JJ Heller’s Your Hands tells of God’s abiding presence in and through whatever life may bring… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlL8LayF0uw

-Jesuit, Fr. Paul Brian Campbell reflects a bit on the Sacrament of Confession - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbbURcnIpok&feature=related

-Confession – dare to search your heart… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LpbBfHXaUg8&feature=related

-A clip depicting the power of mercy in the life of John Newton, a truly “amazing grace” that continues to touch thousands every day… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfoCSmw-EaE

-Tap into what Venerable Fulton Sheen has to say about the sacrament of confession - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IXi3jdZXZyI&feature=related (part 1), it continues to part 4. Well worth the time if you have it…

 

Read more…

-Pope Francis’ Bull on Mercy, announcing a Jubilee Year of Mercy:

https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_letters/documents/papa-francesco_bolla_20150411_misericordiae-vultus.html

-Bishop Baron’s resources for the Year of Mercy:

http://www.wordonfire.org/resources/blog/bishop-barrons-top-10-resources-on-the-year-of-mercy/5008/

-“What does Divine Mercy actually mean?”An article by Dr. Robert Stackpole – take a look… http://thedivinemercy.org/news/story.php?NID=2985

-Info about the Divine Mercy Shrine and the Divine Mercy Image in Krakow!

https://www.faustyna.pl/zmbm/en/chapel-of-the-miraculous-image-of-the-merciful-jesus-and-the-tomb-of-st-faustina/

-Check out St. John Paul II’s homily on the day of St. Faustina’s canonization. St. Faustina introduced the world to the devotion of Divine Mercy …  http://www.divinemercy.org/introduction/63-pope-john-paul-ii-a-divine-mercy.html

-If you haven’t already, dive into St. John Paul II’s encyclical on mercy, Dives et Misericordia, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_30111980_dives-in-misericordia_en.html