Wednesday, October 5, 2022

The Lord Hears Our Cries, and Answers With His Mercy

In times of crisis, prayer may seem particularly perplexing. Sometimes God seems to be "remote," and we may think we don't "deserve His attention" because of our guilt, or our conflicted emotions, our lack of courage, our lack of faith, our lack of even beginning to know how to approach Him or what to ask of Him. The time of crisis is so totally beyond our power that we don't even know where to begin, how to bring our acute brokenness before the silence of God. Crushed in spirit, the question "Why?" arises within us. The human heart—made for the Infinite—struggles especially in relating to God when faced with 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).

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 radical 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 seeks to empower 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 these moments of "darkness" (especially through them), if we let Him.

Of course, we can resist Him. We can try to run away and hide amidst superficial distractions and shallow comforts, but these evasions can never satisfy us. In the disappointment they inevitably bring, we find that 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 beyond themselves. We need to pray especially for these people.

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

But if you are roused to consider God's mercy at all, 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? But He looks upon you in all your fury and frustration like a parent patiently caring for a small child. Look at your little fist, that fist made up of human fingers. God loves that fist of yours. With an infinitely more profound tenderness than any human mother or father can ever begin to have, God looks upon you with radically unconditional love. God is your Father—He made your fist. He knows every line of every finger.

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

“But I don’t know how to ask God for mercy!” Well, in that case, ask Him to enable you to ask Him for mercy. From wherever you are, right now, you can cry out to Him; you can begin to 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 His goodness, and He will give it to you. If you don't think you even want that little drop, ask Him to give you the desire for it. “Ask and you shall receive”—what a simple promise!

In the face of our total incompetence and unworthiness, He loves us. He doesn't wait for us to ask, even, before He draws near to us. God sent His Son Jesus into the world "while we were still sinners" (before we even had a thought for Him). Jesus loved us first, He died and rose from the dead for us, He wants to be with us.

The Lord showers upon us His mercy, not to the demand of our measure and expectations, but because He loves us. We are made for Him, and we need Him. He draws us through the journey of life to ask for and to receive His love, so that we might freely love Him and share in His unending life. 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; in this we touch upon one aspect of the mystery of our irreplaceable personal vocation. Jesus accompanies us on every step of that vocational journey, no matter how difficult. We can be confident that 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.