An open letter to those in need of God’s loving mercy (that is, all of us)
For reasons known perhaps only to you, you have decided you are unworthy of God’s mercy. You have been on my mind lately, and in recent days I have felt strongly that God was nudging me to write a few words of hope to you. Do not be afraid! You are the very one Jesus is looking for so that he may tell you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
It is not uncommon for folks to come to a turning point in life, one brought about by a particular event, the look of hurt on another’s face, the birth of a child, or the sheer passing of years, a turning point at which they say to themselves, “I have done wrong, and I must live my life differently from now on.”
They begin to ask worrisome questions. Will God forgive me? I do not deserve his love. I have wasted so many years. Is it too late for me to start again? Will God look askance at me, wondering if I am really serious? What about those I hurt? Will they ever forgive me? How can I make it up to them? What if I fall again?
If you are one of these, I say to you again: Do not be afraid! You are the very one Jesus is looking for so that he may tell you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
‘Miserable one that I am’
Regret, shame, embarrassment and sorrow are powerful human emotions unleashed when we come to the realization that we have done wrong and that our wrongdoing has affected others. Such emotions can be very helpful — even agents of healing — if we expose them to the light of God’s love. But they also can do us damage if we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by them or if we think we are doomed to flounder in them for the rest of our lives.
Jesus’ attention was always focused on those paralyzed by the burdens of life — sinners, the sick, the weak in faith, the fearful and hopeless. He himself said it was to these — the “lost” — that the Father had sent him. Think of it this way: If you were one of those in the many crowds through which Jesus passed during his public ministry, he would have noticed you. He would have sought you out.
You may wonder: Would he have noticed me because guilt was written all over my face? Would he have wondered why I was among such a group of good people who had lived much better lives than I? Would he have said to me, “Come back when you are clean, when your house is in perfect order?”
Why would Jesus have sought you out? Because he loves you. Because you need him. Because he wants you to accept his gift of forgiveness. Because he wants you with him eternally.
Read the seventh and eighth chapters of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Paul writes very personally, even a little painfully, of his frustration with himself. “What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) One can sense the confusion he has experienced as his sinfulness has been exposed to him. “Miserable one that I am! Who will deliver me from this mortal body? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 7:24-25)
Let God be your strength
The very fact that you are aware of your sin and want to change is a sign that God is already at work in you. Tell him you are sorry. Place yourself in his arms. Trust in his mercy. God’s mercy is a gift. We cannot earn it. None of us deserves it, but he forgives us nonetheless. God sent his Son to look for the lost and bring them back. He aches for you to be at peace in his household. Look into his face and see not hurt but mercy.
Yes, perhaps some changes will be needed in your life. Jesus’ gift of forgiveness was accompanied by his challenge to “sin no more.” Perhaps you will fall again. But it is much better to hand over your weakness to God having realized your sin and his mercy than to stand apart from the crowd, fearing from afar that you are not one of those for whom he is looking. It is better to let God be your strength than to think you can be strong on your own.
These few words are only a part of what I would like to say to you. Go to your pastor and tell him you are seeking God’s forgiveness. Go to confession if you have not already done so. Unburden your heart and let him tell you the rest of the story of God’s love.
And don’t forget: You are the very one Jesus is looking for so that he may tell you, “Your sins are forgiven.” Be at peace. It is never too late to start again. You can live the rest of your life in thanksgiving.
Your friend in Christ,
Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.
Northwest Catholic - March 2014