God Himself provides the most perfect “how to” for mercy in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. To enter into that life, the Church has set aside this year of mercy and Kathleen Beckman has written God’s Healing Mercy: Finding Your Path to Forgiveness, Peace, and Joy, a gift for entering in, in personal prayer and practice, and for groups who want to do something to make the jubilee year in the Church a real, practical part of their lives. Beckman talks about the book and the year here.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: How does one “live the present moment in Christ’s merciful love,” which is one of your “Ten Rules of Life for Merciful Discipleship.”
Kathleen Beckman: In the “Marian Prelude” to the twelve chapters formatted for personal or group reflection, I suggest “Ten Rules of Life for Merciful Discipleship” based on Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan’s “rule of life” while he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He is one of the featured “Profiles in Mercy” in the book. He made a decision that while he was in prison he would not simply wait to be freed. He decided that he would live the present moment, that the prison would be his cathedral and the jail his mission field. This impressed me very much. In international retreat work I meet too many people who are imprisoned in the past or paralyzed about the future. To live in the present moment is to know and encounter Trinitarian mercy in the “now” —whatever my circumstance. If, in this present moment I live in the embrace of Christ’s merciful love, then the past and future are surrendered to Him.
The present moment holds so much grace that I should not want to miss it! St. Faustina refers to this in her spiritual diary—that every moment is unrepeatable and she communed with Christ in the mundane chores she was assigned in the convent.
Lopez: “The Lord has provided an ocean of mercy for you.” What’s this ocean you refer to?
Beckman: The phrase “ocean of divine mercy” is a quote from the revelation of Jesus Christ to Saint Faustina as recorded in her spiritual diary (Divine Mercy in My Soul), “…Today bring to Me all mankind, especially all sinners, and immerse them in the ocean of My mercy. In this way you will console Me in the bitter grief into which the loss of souls plunges me.” Also, Jesus taught St. Faustina the prayer, “O blood and water that gushed forth from the heart of Jesus as a fountain of mercy, I trust in You.”
The pierced heart of Jesus emptied out for our salvation to provide the ocean of divine mercy for sinners. Divine mercy has a unique quality of love that goes out to meet sinners where we are—in our brokenness. We see this in the story of the Prodigal son and the healing of the man born blind. The pierced heart of Jesus is the ocean of mercy, infinitely greater than the sin of humanity. We have only to plunge ourselves into it. Christ invites but does not force.
Lopez: “Jesus Christ is not only the discoverer of forgiveness in human affairs, but also the essence of forgiveness.” What do you say to someone who believes you are wrong here?
Beckman: Scripture and Tradition make a clear case that by the shedding of His blood on Calvary for the forgiveness of sins Jesus forever changed the “eye for an eye” worldview. In the climax of His passion He prayed to the Father for the forgiveness of his persecutors. God is love (1 Jn. 4:8) with a unique quality of merciful compassion that loves even His enemies and willingly lays His life down for them.
The first chapter covers forgiveness from many aspects because unforgiveness is a poison that makes us sick spiritually. It is very important to understand what forgiveness truly means and what it does not mean. If we fail to cultivate a forgiving heart, every time we pray the “Our Father” and say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” we call down vengeance on our self. This is according to the teaching of St. Phillip Neri. The book includes scriptural spiritual exercises to aid readers in this area of forgiveness.
The book quotes the Pope’s “Bull of Indiction” for the Jubilee, “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet, pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart.” In this sentence he connects forgiveness with serenity of heart. I try to provide many ways to look at forgiveness because too often I personally struggled with this. The Year of Mercy has a potential to be a healing pilgrimage where we release the poison of unforgiveness.
Lopez: What do you mean by this and why and how is it relevant to individual lives and the year of mercy? “Mary’s Magnificat is much more than her hymn of praise to the Trinity. It is her IDENTITY.”
Beckman: The Mother of God embodied the Magnificat canticle. Mary’s Magnificat was much more than a prayer offered in one moment of time. Her entire life is a living hymn of praise and gratitude to God’s mercy. The papal encyclical Rich in Mercy by Pope John Paul II explains the connection between Mary and divine mercy.
“No one has experienced, to the same degree as the Mother of the crucified One, the mystery of the cross, the overwhelming encounter of divine transcendent justice with love: that "kiss" given by mercy to justice.Mary, then, is the one who has the deepest knowledge of the mystery of God's mercy. She knows its price, she knows how great it is. In this sense, we call her the Mother of mercy: our Lady of mercy, or Mother of divine mercy; in each one of these titles there is a deep theological meaning, for they express the special preparation of her soul, of her whole personality, so that she was able to perceive, through the complex events, first of Israel, then of every individual and of the whole of humanity, that mercy of which "from generation to generation" people become sharers according to the eternal design of the most Holy Trinity.”
Lopez: “We have a responsibility to God and to one another to apply medicinal mercy wherever there is a wound.” How can all Christians be part of that “field hospital” Pope Francis has said the Church is? How can the wounded partake in the healing? And what does it even mean to be wounded? Who needs the healing?
Beckman: There are many parts to your inquiry. I think the example of the life of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, as highlighted in the book, is the best response. She was very thirsty even as she tried to satiate the “I thirst” of Jesus. Despite years of profound suffering from the spiritual dark night of the soul, she is known as “the saint of the smile”. In the book I tell a story about this. She was Christ’s spiritual bride as a consecrated woman, but she was the Divine Physician’s assistant nurse. By her yes to God, He was able to create “field hospitals” in many places where they are needed most.
Mother Teresa sets a high standard and challenge for us. But she simply lived her vocation fully, and we are called to do the same. I devote a chapter in the book on this topic for living fully our respective vocations. We are all wounded by original sin that darkened our faculties (memory, understanding and free will). God’s provision is Incarnate Mercy. Not many are called to start a religious order, but all are called to, “Do whatever He tells you.” Christ calls us to be missionaries of divine mercy now. God can and does work through the least of us if we say, “Yes, Lord.” One chapter is titled, “Healing from “No” to “Yes” to God.
You ask, “Who needs healing”? I ask, “Who doesn’t?” Drawing closer to Christ, we understand that He alone can heal what ails us—whatever that may be.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is co-author of the new revised and updated edition of How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice (available from Our Sunday Visitor and Amazon.com. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here.