Mercy: A Little Give and Take

St. John Paul II calls the Catholic Church "the trustee and dispenser" of Christ's saving mercy. I think that this is one of those statements that is easy to ignore. So many great statements about God and the Church by the Saints often evoke strong initial reactions, but can, later, easily burn away and be forgotten, yet I think that this image of the Church as the one Christ has trusted to store and dispense mercy could easily be a foundation of our faith. Christ does not offer us His mercy just so we can store it away and allow it to be forgotten, nor does He offer it to us solely to give and not experience ourselves. Mercy is a gift that we are called to receive, and then once we have received it, we are called again to offer it to others.

The apostles of the Church understood this message about mercy the best. St Peter, for example, received God's mercy when he was forgiven after the resurrection for abandoning Jesus at His crucifixion. St Peter did not receive Christ's mercy then keep it inside of himself with the hope that, like a deposit in a bank, it would accrue interest; St Peter received Christ's mercy then shared it with the world. God's mercy may not always look exactly like how we anticipated nor how we would have chosen for ourselves. St Paul, like St Peter, received God's mercy then embraced his vocation fully and spread the message of God's mercy until he was eventually arrested and martyred for it, but surely, as a young man, this vocation could not have been what he had anticipated. In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul describes how, early in his life, he was zealously devoted to his Jewish faith; St Paul thought that he understood the plan that God had for him, and since this plan involved a faithful devotion to Jewish life, he did not hesitate to be one, among many, to persecute the early Christian community. God's mercy came to St Paul in the form of a drastic conversion, and he was blinded for three days. God offered St Paul His mercy, and when St Paul accepted it, mercy came in a way that he could not have anticipated, yet St Paul fully embraced it. St Paul spent the remainder of his life sharing his experience of God's mercy with others with the hope that they would likewise embrace it then share it with the world.

As members of the Church, we are not called to simply receive Christ's mercy and keep it for ourselves, nor are we called to share the message of God's mercy without empathy because we have received it too. We receive God's mercy in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our reception of Jesus in the sacraments needs to lead us to a greater love of Jesus so that, in relationship with Him, we can understand His mercy even more, and then share it with the world.