Mercy seems to be a recurring theme in my prayer. But what is mercy really? What does it mean when we say God is merciful? How am I called to be merciful? I am no theologian, but I think there are two words that describe what God’s mercy means—forgiveness and transformation.
Forgiveness: God is a forgiving God. God’s love for us is unconditional and the very foundation upon which we are forgiven. No matter what we have done or how long we have been away, God is going to welcome us back with loving, open arms. As we feel sorry for our sins and acknowledge our sinfulness, we return to God time and time again. In doing so, we are making a decision to allow a radical change in us.
Transformation: God’s forgiveness and love for us are not just for us to receive a warm, fuzzy feeling and a clean slate. God invites us to be transformed by being forgiven. God, then, gives us a task: not just to avoid evil, but to work to overcome evil by doing good.
The idea of mercy is seen in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises. We are invited to meditate on our sins, and we pray for the grace to feel sorrow for our sins. We are looking at our sins, however, through the lens of God’s love for us. As we ask for forgiveness for our sins, we are invited to consider three questions in prayer:
What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?
Through God’s mercy we are welcomed and loved, forgiven and transformed. As the questions from the Exercises show, though, God’s mercy requires action on our part. For us to live out our call to be merciful, we must take up the tasks God asks of us to help bring about transformation in others. How are we welcoming others? Loving others? Forgiving others? Through prayer we come to know how and where God is inviting us to take up these tasks of mercy.