Friday, October 3, 2014

When We Ask, "Why?" He Answers With His Mercy

The Pope said something in a recent homily that struck a chord with me. He was emphasizing that prayer is real, that it comes "from the heart," and that the heart is often weighted with heavy burdens. The human heart that is made for the Infinite struggles especially in circumstances that seem closed off, when human understanding sees no way forward or no way out.

"I have often listened to people who are experiencing difficult and painful situations, who have lost a great deal or feel lonely and abandoned and they come to complain and ask these questions: Why? Why? They are in upheaval against God. And I say, 'Continue to pray just like this, because this also is a prayer.' ...It is prayer in times of darkness, in those moments of life that seem hopeless, where we cannot see the horizon" (Pope Francis, homily of September 30, 2014).

There is no human person in the world who cannot pray, somehow. So often that desperate question— that apparently angry or frustrated interrogation that asks, "Why?"—is really a kind of plea, a begging of the heart for help. The human heart is searching for the mercy of God.

No human predicament is beyond the reach of God’s mercy. His mercy is working in us during the most terrible sufferings, and His mercy will help each one of us to bear those sufferings and offer them out of love for Jesus, and with Him for the salvation of the world.

We can't imagine what this profoundly personal mercy "feels like," or how it is transforming the depths of our lives. We may experience relief and consolation insofar as the good Lord knows we need it on this mysterious road toward our perfection in Him. But the anguish we bear and the incomprehension we sometimes express are full of His presence and He is changing us even through this (especially through this), if we let Him.

Of course, we can resist Him. We can try to run away and hide. We can seek out false comforts, but all of these wither eventually into husks—pig fodder—and once again our hearts are raising the awful question. Once again we are provoked by our need for the Infinite and we wrestle with the question, "Why? Why?" Resentment and yearning clash within us, but there is also grace at work.

This is a question that lives on the edge of human freedom, fraught with the temptation to give up entirely on God, but also drawn by a hope—however incoherent it may be—that wants to ask God for mercy.

No human predicament, no degree of moral and spiritual disgrace, is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.

Perhaps you may object, even vigorously, that you don’t want God’s mercy.

There are some people who really don’t want God’s mercy. Generally, they don’t even think of it, because they don't think they need anything. For these people above all we must pray.

But then there are people who say to themselves, “I don’t want God’s mercy!”

If you are roused to considering God's mercy in such a way, it is because His call is provoking you in the depths of your heart. When you recognize the possibility of God's mercy, it is because you have already begun—somewhere within yourself—to desire it.

Are you angry with the Lord? Bitter? Are you shaking your fist at God? Look at that little fist, that fist made up of human fingers. God loves that little fist of yours. I think my child's little fist is a beautiful and amazing thing, even when she is having a temper tantrum. And God your Father—He made your fist. He knows every line of every finger.

He wants so much to uncurl those stubborn little fingers and hold your hand. 

“But I don’t know how to ask God for mercy!” Ask Him to enable you to ask Him for mercy. From wherever you are, right now, ask Him to show you His mercy and give you a heart that wants His mercy. Everything good comes from Him.

So even if you look at yourself and say, “I am totally evil,” you can turn to Him and ask for a little drop of goodness and He will give it to you. “Ask and you shall receive”—what a simple promise!

So you are a sinner? Ask.

You are lonely and suffering? Ask.

You are debilitated by pain and physical humiliation? Ask.

You are a “good Christian”? Ask, and ask all the more, because there is the ever present danger that you may have forgotten how much you need to ask, every single day.

You are a saint? Then you don’t need me to tell you to ask because you have been asking for a long, long time. And you will continue to ask, from depths that I can’t even begin to fathom. While you are at it, ask Him to have mercy on me.

Thus He showers upon us His mercy, not to the demand of our measure and expectations, but because we are made for Him and we need Him. He gives His mercy beyond all measure, long in anticipation of our awareness, and then in response to our recognition that we really do need Him.

Sometimes He seems to delay, but this is only because He wants us to keep asking; He wants us to experience our total need for Him so that we can grow greater in the love He gives us.

Ask, keep asking, and never give up. You shall receive… it is a promise from God.