Saturday, August 13, 2011

We need God's mercy because only God satisfies us

For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you once disobeyed God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now disobeyed in order that, by virtue of the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all (Rom 11:29-32)
Continuing my series on scriptural reflections for Sundays using, for the time being, our second readings, currently taken from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, which this week as last deal with the Jews in light of Jesus Christ, I wonder how many homilies this Sunday will deal with this issue at all. It is safe to say, not many. The gifts of God are, indeed, "irrevocable," as St. Paul indicates. This means that when we use the term "Old Testament" to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures, we must be conscious of doing so only in a chronological way, denoting merely the fact that these writings not only came before our uniquely Christian Scriptures, which we refer to as the "New Testament," but are necessary to even make sense of our own Scriptures and, more importantly, the One they proclaim, Jesus Christ. The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum), makes this very clear: "God, the inspirer and author of both Testaments, wisely arranged that the New Testament be hidden in the Old and the Old be made manifest in the New" (par. 16).

God is not deterred by our disobedience, as the whole divine plan of salvation, set in motion at the fall of our first parents, demonstrates. This is why in the great Exsultet, sung each year at the Easter Vigil, we proclaim: O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem." (literally translated- "O happy fault that merited to have such and so great a Redeemer" diaconal bow to WDTPRS). To us, who are, at least materially speaking, semi-Pelagians a good deal of the time, Paul's stark statement can seem disturbing instead of comforting, speaking as he does of both Christians and Jews: "For God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all."

Being a Christian, contra ideas about holiness being gauged by meticulously observing the 613 mitzvot, is recognizing our constant need for God's mercy, which is given us in Christ and realized, that is, appropriated, through the sacraments, which is why we have a Sacrament of Penance.

In French, the word for thank you is merci. Merci is only a bit of what is called faux ami, that is, "a false friend." False friends are false cognates, words that are phonetically similar or identical to English words, but mean something different. In the case of merci, the origins of this word are the same as our English word "mercy." However, it is unusual for it be used in French to mean something like to show forbearance for or to take pity on another. But our need for God's mercy given in Christ and made available to us by the power of the Holy Spirit certainly constitutes part of our thanksgiving, our Eucharist.


  1. Thanks for this blog. I really like the picture of mercy portrayed in the picture above. The man in fetal position with the hand in the cross extending downwards toward him as two men pray above. Do you know anything about this piece? Who painted it? The story behind it? I'd really appreciate your help.

    Thank you,

  2. Jesse:

    Thanks. I hope to reach people through my writing and posting, but without the concern of writing for the sake of generating the most hits. I do not know anything about this image. Like you, I am very struck by it. It captures for me God taking pity on my nothingness.


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