The gift of mercy

Daily Reading for February 10

People think they can confine lack of forgiveness to a particular event, a special case. You cannot, not in the end. Forgiveness is total. There can be no exceptions. No matter how justified the case, lack of forgiveness is never justified. And you cannot get away with it. . . . If we do not forgive, the evil remains in us and can ultimately destroy us. When we are unforgiving we must pray continually for the gift of mercy. . . .

There is a real need for mercy and compassion, indeed forgiveness, toward our own self. One says, “I can never forgive myself” for some wrong done and yet such a statement is wholly unchristian. One must forgive oneself as one must also forgive others. A merciless condemnation of one’s self for faults, failings, weakness, is heartless. In no sense is it humility, for humility is truth, and the truth is that no matter what we have done, what we are, we abide in God’s forgiving love. No one denies that we are gross sinners, but the truth also insists that our sins are forgiven and we are loved.

There is no sense denying the darkness of despair that makes its presence felt in our hearts. This was what drove Martin Luther, after many years as a monk, to purge himself of any program of good works to rely on faith and faith alone. So too the good works of our own life, however inadequate, however splendid they be, are not going to be enough to establish us in that trust in God which is the key to salvation and inner peace. . . . An emphasis on self-condemnation may indicate how much we need to grow in faith and trust in God. If we show mercy we will see it, give it; also to ourselves. For one of your neighbors is you and if we are bidden earnestly to show mercy to others, among those others is you. . . . Someone who is hard on himself will be hard on others; one is merciful or one isn’t. You cannot be merciful to one and hateful to another, nor love one neighbor and condemn another. Mercy is all or none.

From “Forgiveness” in The Call of Wild Geese: Monastic Homilies by Matthew Kelty OCSO (Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1996).

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