God’s Mercy Gives Us the Strength to Cope with Life
The young Church, after the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles on the first Pentecost, experienced joy and apprehension. The joy came from the fact that the men and women gathered in the Upper Room, some 120, were afraid until the extraordinary event. Jesus of Nazareth had performed many miracles of healing, raised people from the dead, forgiven sins, and taught about love and forgiveness and mercy. He was initially very popular, but when He began explaining what is entailed in following Him and the meaning of His teachings, most of the followers fell by the wayside, because this was too much for them and it did not fit within their life’s program. In the end, the antagonistic Jewish religious and political leaders succeeded in having Him silenced by crucifixion. But Jesus rose from the dead, and then appeared to many, and ate with some of them to prove that He was not a ghost. Nevertheless, although now joyful, they remained afraid and relegated themselves to a secure place, the Upper Room. The scene of the Crucifixion was still very vivid and could not be erased, just as His appearance to them after the Resurrection could not take away the sufferings He had endured because the wounds in His hands and feet and the opening in His side remained in His glorified body. Perhaps they fixed their attention on the Crucified Jesus and saw in Him the price of sins. Perhaps they listened to His mother Mary, who encouraged and sustained them with her prayers. Now, thanks to the Spirit of Pentecost, the men in the group had become courageous and began preaching Jesus Christ as the true long-awaited Messiah and Lord, and many people came to believe in Jesus. There was every good reason to be joyful.
Their apprehension was rooted in the persecution that had broken out after the apostles began preaching. St. Peter and other apostles were imprisoned. St. Stephen the deacon was stoned to death. All of this was done by fellow Jews, such as Saul. They posed the question: If this is truly such good news, then why this opposition and persecution from the very people who know what the Sacred Scripture says about the Messiah? It did not make any sense!
Yet, what happened to Jesus’ disciples is precisely what happened to Jesus Himself. Our Lord willingly ran to meet those sufferings foretold of Him in the Sacred Scriptures. He had clued His disciples in on those sufferings over and over. He had rebuked St. Peter for refusing to accept His Passion. He was crystal clear about the world being saved through His sufferings. Jesus did much good work, but in the end, He was executed as a criminal. People. had chosen Barabbas instead of Jesus. The fallen children of Eve once again chose evil instead of good.
However, when the persecution of the nascent Church began, something marvelous happened as a result of rejection and suffering. Christ’s disciples scattered. Some went to Antioch and preached in the synagogues to fellow Jews, while others went to preach in other places. The result of the persecution was that the disciples fulfilled the Lord’s command: go and preach to all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Church started becoming universal.
What did they preach? Jesus, the Son of God made man, had come to save humanity, and God extended His loving mercy to all. It is a mercy offered not only to Jews, but to the whole human race. The Church Father Tertullian (ca. 155–230) from the Roman province of North Africa wrote about the first Christian communities: “They were founded by the apostles themselves, who first preached to them by what is called the living voice and later by means of letters.” He had in mind both the oral tradition and the written New Testament.
We have much to learn from the first Christians. On paper, we in the United States have the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and freedom of worship. Truth be told, however, this is not the case, because there is still much prejudice against the Catholic Church. Also, we are divided as Catholics. Some pick and choose which Church teachings to follow, as if the tenets of our Faith are up for grabs or determined by polls. Some Catholics deal with others in a very unchristian way. We do not imitate God’s mercy. We give up too easily when things do not go our way, when God does not answer our prayers according to our plans, when we refuse to give someone a second chance. We get discouraged and perhaps even disgusted.
How many times do we have to forgive the same person for repeating the same thing that hurts us or annoys us or angers us? Well, the Lord simply states that God forgives us without the limits of counted times. Forgiveness and mercy have no memory. In other words, each time we forgive from the heart, we give the chance to the other person as if this is the first time we are doing so. When we forgive, we imitate God. We also imitate the Church, for, like a loving mother, she knows well our human limitations but never denies forgiveness to any of her repentant children. This is affirmed by St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria (328–373), one of the great defenders of the Church against the heresy of Arianism: “Now through the grace of God’s Word everyone is made abundantly clean.”
St. Claude de la Colombière (1641–1682) was the confessor and spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647–1690). Both lived when the Catholic Church was undergoing a spiritual renewal in France following the Council of Trent. When Margaret Mary told Claude that she had a vision of the Sacred Heart, he wanted to be sure it was a legitimate apparition. So, he told her, ask Jesus what sins you have confessed. The next time Jesus appeared to her, she did ask. She told Colombière. He did not know. Colombière said that the vision was genuine, for God has no. memory of forgiven sins. In other words, God in His mercy forgives our sins and forgets them because He gives us a new beginning.
That is why we should never be depressed at confessing the same sins over many years. We are creatures of habit, and so we fall into sin frequently. God, in His mercy, picks us up and says, “This is a brand-new beginning.” It is similar to our writing all of our sins on sand, and then the great tide of God’s mercy rolls in and erases what we have written. Pope Francis, at the end of the Holy Year of Mercy, stated during his homily that God “is ready to completely and forever cancel our sin, because His memory—unlike our own—does not record evil that has been committed or keep score of injustices experienced. God has no memory of [any forgiven] sin, but only of us, of each of us, we who are his beloved children.”
Many a time we get upset at ourselves and at others because all of us seem to repeat the same failings. We turn to God as if He is our problem solver. We want to control God and tell Him how He should change other people—at home, at work, in our neighborhood, in our parish, and in society at large. If God would only change that person, I could become holier myself. Yet all of us, no matter who we are, change very slowly. It is similar to a housewife baking a cake. If she takes the cake out of the oven too soon, it is not done. If she leaves the cake in the oven too long, it is burned. We simply have to wait patiently for the correct time, for God’s time to act.
This means we must be as patient and merciful toward others— and ourselves—as God is to us. To do so, we must pray for good coping skills. We must learn to cope with reality, with ourselves, with others. Coping is a grace that helps us accept what is and live with it, praying and hoping and persevering until things get better, not according to our expectations but according to God’s plan. The first Christian disciples went beyond discouragement and disappointment and frustration. They coped, and in coping, they became great missionaries.
This article is adapted from a chapter in Stillness in a World Full of Turmoil by Msgr. Laurence Spiteri
which is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Art for this post: Cover and featured image used with permission.