The Next Years of Mercy

The Year of Mercy wrapped up. Despite its closing Pope Francis urges us to continue to walk to the path of mercy. To help me follow Francis’s lead, I reflected on what truth grew in me during this year with hope that this truth will continue to grow. Here are three lessons I was mercy’d with:

1) Forgiveness involves change.

Forgiveness is more than words, but a re-opening of the heart toward the forgiven, an accommodation. The words "I forgive you" alone do not involve a change in the reality of my heart, making it again a new creation, a Christ-like creation. The re-opening, I've learned, is rarely total and can be fleeting. But some re-opening must occur for forgiveness to be happening. Although the words in themselves are never enough, the humility and desire required to mutter them may cause the first crack toward the heart's re-opening. Mercy, like every other experience of the Mystery, changes us.

2) Salvation is right in front of me.

 The degree to which I have lived mercy contributes to my experience of living freely and joyfully. The heart’s most natural disposition is open, and living mercy restores the heart. So salvation is not something far away or a goal I will achieve after crafting the “perfect family,” or becoming the “perfect new evangelist.” Salvation is lived every day that I love my wife in front of me, the co-worker who rubs me the wrong way, or even my enemy. The restored heart is a saved heart.

3) Time is a Mercy

This one came from my wife and, admittedly, after the Year of Mercy. But it does provide a way for me to look back on the Year of Mercy and forward to the coming years of mercy. We spent Thanksgiving with her 80-something year old grandparents in Wisconsin. They are simple, joyful, generous, and generative. It took a long life of living mercy for them to be changed into the living saints that they are today. Instead of lamenting how the heck we could ever turn out like that as a couple or as individuals, my wife expressed gratitude for time. Time is space given to us by God in which his life can grow in us and transform us. Ongoing conversion. Time itself is a mercy.

Here's to many more years of mercy! Have a blessed time waiting for Mercy this Advent.

The Foolish Stumbling Block of the Easter Economy

But we preach Christ crucified, indeed unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Gentiles foolishness. (1Corinthians 1:23)

Easter is the High Feast of the Foolishness of God, the Glorious Octave of His almighty skandalon, over which the great and smart and strong of this world will endlessly and perpetually fall. Amen, Alleluia!

Anyone who would deign to preach Christ without the offense of the Cross, who would stoop to preaching Our Lord unrisen, though he imagines himself reasonable and calculating, is indeed a stooge who knows not what he does. As St. Paul further says, sans the utter folly of the Cross and the inescapable snare of the empty tomb, our faith “is in vain, for you are yet in your sins, and “we are of all men most miserable.” Once more, Amen, Alleluia!

Though we have tried our best to put the Word of God “in its place,” to train Him to stay in the boundaries of our well-kempt lawns, Easter cannot be confined. It bursts from our polite grasps just as Life burst from the Grave that wondrous night, and evades being truncated into sound bites fit for easy and pleasant consumption. There is no ½ or ¾ a Cross, no pinch-or-so of Resurrection. One must confirm them in their wholeness, or deny them in their totality. All lip service paid to the bald starkness and holy madness of that night quickly melts away under the slightest scrutiny: do you believe IT to be true? The stone laid aside, the angels-in-white, the frantic witness of the women with their un-poured-perfumes, they ask and demand an answer: do you praise the Risen One? 

As witness to this scandal and foolishness, this body and soul of Easter, God has gifted the world with two astounding authors: Chaucer and Cervantes. When it comes to the stumbling-block nature of this latter age of ours, no one surpasses Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Northman that I am, I give the nod to him over Dante, but quarrel with no man who would choose the Florentine). John Senior famously (though as far as I can tell, not in writing) made his students read first The Little Flowers of St. Francis so they could see an image of a Saint, and then required a walk with Chaucer's pilgrims to understand those they set by in the pews.

So the great scandal of the Church is precisely that, next to the chivalrous Knight and the pious Parson, there is the drunk Miller and the mischievous Monk—with the Wife of Bath perhaps being more interesting than them all! A student well read in Chaucer would not even let the corruption of certain Clergy dissuade them from the Faith: the Pardoner, among others, is warning enough! Volumes could be written regarding this good master of the skandlon that is our Faith, and but volumes too defending the dogged belief that this menagerie of fallen souls belong on the same pilgrimage toward God together.

But on this Feast of the Comedy truly Divine, I would like to focus on the Foolishness of God, and what is to my mind the most sublime prophet of this facet of the Resurrection: Don Quixote. Indeed, the last five paragraphs of Simon Leys’s seminal essay “The Imitation of Our Lord Don Quixote” form perhaps the most succinct explanation of what I hold most dear about our Faith. To quote the last two paragraphs:

In his quest for immortal fame, Don Quixote suffered repeated defeats. Because he obstinately refused to adjust “the hugeness of his desire” to “the smallness of reality,” he was doomed to perpetual failure. Only a culture based upon “a religion of losers” could produce such a hero.
What we should remember, however, is this (if I may thus paraphrase Bernard Shaw): The successful man adapts himself to the world. The loser persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the loser.     My friends, what more does this season call us to, than Knighthood in the triumphant and regal Kingdom of Losers that Christ has won over all the “winners” of the world?

Which brings me to the title of this essay. The word “economy” comes from two Greek words, oikos meaning “household,”and nomos meaning “law.” When I speak of the Easter Economy, I have in mind first not some ephemeral advice about this or that market, but everlasting rules that Christ has set for this new household of His, the realm of the “Kingdom of Losers” He has won through conquering death. How is it that we sinners, stumbling blocks though we are, are to live in this new realm of folly won by the Slaughtered Lamb of God?

Oh, we can only but begin to speak to the lavish manner in which God pours out His blessing on us, His unworthy children! However, in being embarrassed by the embarrassing largesse of God, it is we who prove to be miserly in our attitude toward the Ancient of Days. How ironic that it should be so, in a political season where people admire men supposedly too rich to be bought off, or with political ideals too lofty to be tarnished by realism, that it is God’s very children who slink away scandalized by the scandal of God’s mercy. We should instead loudly praise the Divine Apatheia which is immune to bribes, speaks endlessly of the timelessness in which God holds all things and thus proves Him incapable of overestimating the heights His compassion can climb!

We speak of mercy as if “nice” people could lend at the absurd rate God does, but the truth is that God lends us mercy like a 3am gambler, who lets it ride on red through the terror of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday. We imagine God Himself as nice as well, but He is frankly irresponsible towards us, if it were not for the infinite stores of mercy from which He draws. Amen, and alleluia that it be so!

So in this 50 day Feast, let us be cursed if we are the ones found wanting in lavish praise, if we be the ones that fall short of abundant joy, if we would be the scolds of God and lecture Him about His outlandish economics! As the Easter Sequence Victimae Paschali proclaims, “death and life have contended in that combat stupendous,” and my friends, the loser of this battle? He won. Will you be the one who diminishes the splendor of His stupendous victory? Will you be the one who, red-cheeks blushing, looks away at the refulgent splendor of the conquering slaughtered Lamb? Or will you join the jubilant throngs of scandalous fools, bathed in the immeasurable and undeserved spoils of Our Resurrected King, and sing the anthem of the Kingdom of Losers, “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining; have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!”?

Let His ransomed fools say, Amen! Alleluia!