In preparation for the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis asked us to be "Merciful like the Father." This is the "theme" for the Holy Year and is drawn from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus says, "Be merciful just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).
But how is the Father merciful?
It is best to talk about God's mercy in light of His justice. Pope Francis explains,
"These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love. Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society, which is meant to be governed by the rule of law. Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual. In the Bible, there are many references to divine justice and to God as 'judge'. In these passages, justice is understood as the full observance of the Law and the behaviour of every good Israelite in conformity with God’s commandments....justice is conceived essentially as the faithful abandonment of oneself to God’s will" (Bull of Indiction, emphasis added).
We are then judged by God on how faithful we are to His commandments and how much we have abandoned ourselves to His holy will.
However, God's justice does not end there. God desires that all of His people be brought into right relationship with Him and He actively reaches out to them. He is not a cold judge who scorns those outside of the Law. Instead, His justice requires Him to seek out the lost and to make every attempt to bring them within His precepts. As the Catechism states,
"Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person" (CCC 2567).
Pope Francis restates this same reality and connects it to God's Mercy. He says,
"Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe" (Bull of Indiction).
God even revealed this type of mercy in the Old Testament through the Prophet Ezekiel when He said,
"Is it my will that a sinner should die, says the Lord God, and not that he should be converted from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23).
Mercy does not negate the Law in any way, nor does it make it superfluous. God maintains that we should remain faithful to His commandments and we are judged accordingly. However, God is not a stationary being, or even a Zeus-type figure who sends lightning bolts on poor sinners. Instead, He seeks out the lost sheep and places them on His shoulders to bring them back to Him.
Unfortunately, we often reject God when He comes knocking at our door. We reject His attempts to bring us back to the sheep-fold and when we do so, we remain outside His loving embrace. The more we reject Him, the harder it will be for us to accept Him when we are face-to-face with Him at the end of our lives. The good news is that He will never stop trying. No matter how far we are away from God, He will always seek us out. It is up to us to accept Him into our lives and allow His love to envelop us.
So how is the Father merciful? Let us remember these words of Pope Francis, especially during times when we think we have been abandoned by God because of our sinfulness,
"God does not deny justice. He rather envelopes it and surpasses it with an even greater event in which we experience love as the foundation of true justice.
Mercy is not opposed to justice but rather expresses God’s way of reaching out to the sinner, offering him a new chance to look at himself, convert, and believe" (Bull of Indiction)