I do worry, however, that in our society the idea of mercy is weakened by our lack of understanding about sin and repentance.
When we hear “Mercy” we too often think, “Oh, that just means that nasty old Catholic Church has decided to go easy on everybody for a bit.”
Errrm. Not really.
However, if we’re not careful the year of mercy might just become an excuse for lazy and liberal priests to wave a hand and say, “Oh, don’t worry about that….That’s not a sin…”
What is needed for mercy to have its full effect is for the person to first understand what sin is, and why it offends God.
The Bible defines sin as “falling short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) We were made in God’s image, but that image is wounded by sin. Our destiny is to have that deep wound completely healed and to be “ransomed, healed, restored forgiven” in Christ. When that happens the image of God in us comes to completion.
This is what St Irenaeus meant when he wrote, “The glory of God is a human fully alive.” In other words, once the wound of sin is healed the glory of God in us is restored.
Sin, therefore, is anything that we do or anything we fail to do which keeps us from fulfilling that destiny of being fully alive and therefore fully showing the glory of God.
Think it through. We can only have access to that mercy–God’s love in action–if we ask for it, and we can only ask for it if we know we need it, and we can only know we need it if we are aware that we are lacking it and we can only be aware that we are lacking it when we are aware of sin, because sin is anything we do or anything we fail to do which keeps us from that glory of God.
This, in a rather roundabout way of explaining, is what true repentance consists of. It is not simply feeling bad or guilty or ashamed or afraid we’ll get caught. The church calls this “imperfect contrition”
It’s okay, but it’s not good enough “Perfect contrition” is the realization that we have not reached God’s glory for us. It is the deep understanding that we have failed God and his love and that we have “done what we ought not to have done and left undone those things we ought to have done and there is no health in us.”
Once we truly repent we can truly receive mercy.
That is why the Year of Mercy is also a Year of Repentance.
That is why the Year of Mercy is not simply a carte blanche, wave of the hand, “Oh, God love you. You’ll be fine. Go in peace”
True mercy demands true contrition. That’s why we enter into confession with renewed hearts and minds devoted to love and serve God fully. that’s why we go on pilgrimage. That’s why we go to the Holy Door.
We do these things so that we might learn true contrition and thereby receive true mercy.