Periodically we hear a prayer uttered by our priests at Mass that says something about making ourselves worthy of God’s promises to us. You might have even heard some prayers that talk about earning something from God. I know that language is one of the most difficult ways to try to describe God‘s infinite mercy, but we have to try to do our best. So there are some things that we need to make very clear in our language because language can affect attitudes, which can affect behavior.
What makes us worthy in the eyes of God is God’s love for us and God’s initiative in choosing us. There have been in the past some covenants that have called for a reciprocal relationship — if you do this, then I’ll do that. The history of those covenants and relationships didn’t go so well, and I think we know the clue. God is always faithful, and we are not. If we ever try to match God’s mercy or match God’s faithfulness or even try to come close to God’s compassion, we always fall short. So it seems a dead-end proposal for a relationship with God to try to earn love or be worthy of mercy.
Throughout this Easter season, we will get glimpses of what it means that God is always merciful. To hear from the Scriptures that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” means that even in our sinfulness God is taking the initiative with us again and again. I know that sometimes we fall into the temptation to believe that only fear and punishment will keep us faithful. But that motivation seems to last for a short amount of time and then we fall short again. Usually, after those spurts of willpower, we become even more convinced of our shame and more enveloped in darkness. So what did Jesus teach us about being in relationship?
I know this may sound very trite to those who seek some deep intellectual development, but it has to do with being loved and loving. Take a moment to reflect on the truly loving relationships you have in your life. Isn’t it true, even with other human beings, that the more we allow ourselves to be honestly and mercifully loved by another we open to all the possible ways that we can love that person in return? The orientation of our heart is toward love, because we are made in the image and likeness of God. Yes we have been scarred and broken by the unfaithfulness of others and by our own choices to be sinful. Even a broken heart longs for love. Whenever we allow ourselves to be loved authentically our hearts and lives begin to heal.
So when we are promised by God and shown in the life of Jesus that this divine love is our inheritance, our broken hearts begin to heal. As they heal, the natural orientation of our hearts also becomes more apparent. If we allow ourselves to be loved authentically by God, our hearts respond with an urge to love God as best we can, without fear, but in freedom. We are more apt to turn toward God if we have allowed God’s love to be embedded in our hearts in an indelible way. But how do we allow God’s love to be rooted in our minds and hearts?
It really does have more to do with receiving than it does with doing. Jesus wants to love us, without condition and without end. What keeps you and me from believing that and living out of that freedom. This is not freedom to do whatever we want to do but freedom to act in love as we have already been loved faithfully. As we celebrate this Divine Mercy Sunday, in the shadow of Easter, we are given the gift that we could never earn or deserve. We are given love without end and mercy without measure. Receive, at the deepest part of your mind and heart, the gift that is being offered to you. Do you want to be more godly in your life? Do you want to live more like Jesus in your choices and actions? Fear and anxiety will not motivate you to do that faithfully. Allow yourself to be loved by the one who never fails and let your heart be taught by the Master.
Father Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.