commodity |kəˈmä di tē|
noun (pl. commodities)
- a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee.
- a useful or valuable thing, such as water or time.
While God’s mercy cannot be bought, or sold, I would make a case for it being one of the most valuable things of life and go so far as to further say it is quite possibly the most important thing we, as human beings, can both receive and give. Mercy is to love what breathing is to air – so interconnected are both that one is not possible without the other.
In his first book, The Name of God is Mercy, Pope Francis paints a picture of God as always running to us with his love – like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son (see Luke 15:11-32) and, in that love, God never tires of forgiving us; no matter our sin. In that story from Luke it is important to note that the Father never stops loving the son, yet did not run after him when he left of his own volition. But, upon seeing the error of his ways, the son only had to turn back towards home and as the story says, “while he was a long way off the Father was filled with mercy and ran to greet him.” While the Father never loses his love for us, and his willingness to act with mercy and forgive our sins, mercy demands a response. It is the act of acknowledging our sinfulness that makes mercy possible. A penitent heart is the catalyst for mercy to move from a noun to a verb; from something that the Father possesses to what he freely gives and we receive. This is great news if not for the fact that sin, in our day and age, has run rampant and so much so our eyes have been blinded to our own ability to acknowledge that sin. Pope Francis puts it this way:
“Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. Either it does not know how to cure its wounds or it believes that it’s not possible to cure them. And it’s not just a question of social ills or people wounded by poverty, social exclusion, or one of the many slaveries of the third millennium. Relativism wounds people too: all things seem equal, all things appear the same. Humanity needs mercy and compassion. Pius Xii, more than a half a century ago, said that the tragedy of our age was that it had lost its sense of sin, the awareness of sin. Today, we add further to the tragedy by considering our illness, our sins, to be incurable, things that cannot be healed or forgiven. We lack the concrete experience of mercy. The fragility of our era is this, too: we don’t believe that there is a chance for redemption; for a hand to raise you up; for an embrace to save you, forgive you, pick you up, flood you with infinite, patient, indulgent love; to put you back on your feet. We need mercy.”
So often in my ministry I hear this sentiment, which I believe is actually a plea from the heart: “I do not understand how God can forgive all the things I have done.” Because we are so wounded it has become harder and harder for us to make that first step of acknowledging our sinfulness which sets everything in motion. Again the Prodigal Son only had to turn towards home before the Father was running to meet and embrace him. Recently, during Advent, we offered a Day of Penance on campus. With five priests giving up time to be available for the Sacrament of Penance at various times and places throughout the day, not a single person availed themselves of the opportunity to make that turn towards home. The commodity which is so fundamental to God that, as Francis says, is His very identity, is left unclaimed only to await another opportunity to be received by us through the acknowledgment of our sins.
This Lent is a perfect time to heed the psalmist’s cry and claim for ourselves this lost commodity of God: Be merciful O Lord for I have sinned. In the greatness of your love, cleanse me.
Or as words from a favorite song we often sing in the Liturgy encourages us:
“Come back to Me, with all your heart.
Don’t let fear, keep us apart.
Long have I waited for your coming home to Me
And living deeply our new life.”
Gregory Norbet from “Hosea”