How to pay forward God’s Divine Mercy

Mercy: “compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.”

I’d never thought of mercy quite that way, that God has the power and the right to punish us when we fail. As Deacon Steve Greco said in the Catholic Journal, God’s mercy is “undeserved and unmerited divine grace.” It is a gift of love.

Our God chooses to listen, to guide, to love and to forgive. We will never be worthy, but that is the beauty of his love. Pope St. John Paul II described Divine Mercy as the presence of a love “which is stronger than death and sin.”

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An anonymous Catholic writer once said that the reason we’re called sheep and Jesus the shepherd is because sheep are the most unclean, smelliest and dumbest of animals. I was a little insulted at first, but it paints a clear picture of our own unworthiness. Yet God loves us so much that he sacrificed his Son to save us. We could never earn salvation on our own.

What does he want in return?

When we’re forgiven, God expects us to “pay forward” the mercy he grants to us. We can feed, clothe, house and pray for others, but if we can’t forgive, we’re not doing what he teaches. The Lord’s prayer is as clear as day: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Extending mercy to our enemies

How do we pay it forward? By a frequent examination of conscience to make sure we’re not harboring grudges. But what if the person who hurt us is unrepentant, and will try to hurt us again and again? We are not called to go beyond what God himself does. He wants the sinner to be repentant and ask for forgiveness.

Jesus didn’t say we have to “like” our enemies, but to love them and pray for their souls. We’re not required to invite them into our lives. Jesus emphasizes the importance of repentance for forgiveness in Luke 17:3-4: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”

There was one person I had a most difficult time forgiving. I’ll call her Claire. Her son-in-law hired my husband to build an apartment for her over their garage. He was half-done when an aneurysm burst in his brain. While he was in the ICU, she came in and said: “If I’d known it was going to take this long, I’d never have hired you. You could at least make phone calls from the hospital and get things done.” I was speechless, but the nurse, seeing my distress, stepped in and asked her to leave.

From that moment on, he never rested, but kept going through the motions of measuring, painting and pounding nails. His brain went into Vaso-spasms, and then he began having seizures and rambled in gibberish for three days. “She’s killed him,” I thought, because even though he never remembered the visit, he felt compelled to work. Even after he’d beaten the odds and survived, I carried that resentment with me for years.

I went to confession about my inability to forgive her but still found myself re-telling the story and relishing my righteous anger. I knew I had to let it go for the sake of my own soul, but how?

I decided to try the Divine Mercy prayer. “On behalf of Claire, O blood and water, which gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, Jesus I trust in you. Please grant Claire the grace of salvation, and help me to feel nothing but love for her.” It didn’t happen overnight, but as she became a part of my daily prayer, my anger faded away, and I finally felt compassion for her. I don’t know if she was sorry for her actions, but my anger was only hurting me. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, love is “willing the good of the other” selflessly.

Forgiving ourselves

There will always be challenges. Mercy means that we also have to forgive ourselves. I once confessed to our priest that I still agonized over past sins, even after they’d been confessed and forgiven. He said: “No, don’t do that. That’s the devil trying to make you doubt God’s love and mercy. Let the past go.”

Our lives will be full of joy and heartbreak. People will hurt us, especially those closest to us. We can pray for them, and we can show God’s mercy through our actions. If God, in his infinite mercy, is so willing to forgive us in our wretched state, how can we justify withholding forgiveness from others?

We are not helpless in God’s plan. If we find ourselves anxious about the state of mankind, Jesus asks us to pray the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. It includes this prayer, “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” We are doing something good and merciful when we pray the chaplet.

Maybe we’ll never fully comprehend God’s capacity for love, but we can rejoice in it and try to emulate it as best we can. Embrace the tenets of Divine Mercy and forgive as he has forgiven us.

Note: Divine Mercy Sunday, as requested by Jesus himself, is celebrated on the first Sunday after Easter.

Jesus told St. Faustina that “whoever will come to the fount of life on that day shall be granted full remission of sins and punishment.” Confession beforehand is not a requirement but ensures that we’re in the state of grace to receive such a gift.

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