Mercy is Awful: Living 2016 in Mercy

This week, Father Scalia unites our world’s calendar year with the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy in a week-long series on Living Mercy in 2016. This is the fifth installment. Previous installments include What is MercyMercy is GracefulMercy is Honest and Mercy is Severe.

By: Rev. Paul Scalia

[T]he hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth (Jn 4:23-24).

Mercy is awful. Not bad or harmful, and not meant here in the sense of being at times hard to receive. Rather, mercy is awful in the older, perhaps archaic, sense of the word. Mercy produces in us the proper reverence and wonder. It puts us in awe of God. Which is all to say that God’s greatest mercy is to bestow upon us true worship – the right way of praying, of expressing our reverence and awe.

Living in Mercy

Now, it might seem a small thing that the Lord has established true worship. Indeed, we might not think that there is any such thing as “true” or “false” worship. We suffer a dangerous indifferentism about worship, viewing all ways as equally valid. But a little reflection shows otherwise.

Man is created for worship. But in a fallen world that instinct goes terribly wrong if not properly governed. Consider poor Jephthah (Jdg 11:29-40). On his way to battle he piously vowed to the Lord to offer as a burnt offering, “whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return.” When he returned, unfortunately, his daughter came out to meet him…

Now, the moral of the story is not that we get to worship however we see fit. Rather, it is a sobering reminder that without instruction in worship we tend toward error and evil. The Egyptians worshipped beasts. The nations surrounding Israel practiced infant sacrifice, as did the Carthaginians. The Aztecs practiced human sacrifice.

We will worship someone…or something. If not the one true God, then the state, money, fame, power, pleasure, etc. We sacrifice many lives (figuratively and literally) to these false gods. The greatest evil in this fallen world is false worship – the exaltation of what is not God…the giving of ourselves to what is not worthy of us. All other sins flow from this. But Divine Mercy has appeared in the world to free us from false worship and lead us to the perfect praise and adoration of heaven.


Mercy frees us from false worship.

We become what we worship. The state’s raw power, the market’s greed, the celebrity’s superficiality – these will shape us if we place them before God. Thus God gives the First Commandment to free us from false gods. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me” (Ex 20:2-3). The Lord commands this to protect us, because chasing after other gods debases, enslaves, and leads us to all kinds of brutality. Even more mercifully now through Jesus Christ He gives us the grace both to know this truth more profoundly and to obey His commandment more generously; not only to avoid false gods but also to deepen our worship of Him.

Mercy teaches true worship.

God Himself prays. By His example of prayer our Lord shows us what it means to pray. The Gospels give us glimpses of the Master’s prayer life. We know that is habitual: “He would withdraw to deserted places to pray” (Lk 5:16). It is grateful: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike” (Lk 10:21-22). It is the intimate, trusting conversation of a child: “Abba, Pater…” (Mk 14:36).  And He instructs us to do likewise: “When you pray, say: Father…” (Lk 11:2).

Mercy establishes true worship.

The greatest act of mercy is our Lord’s Sacrifice on the Cross – not only because His death reconciles us with the Father, but also because He has entrusted this Sacrifice to us in the Mass as perfect worship. He both offers the Sacrifice to His Father and entrusts It to us – to be offered in His memory. In the Mass, then, we have the summit of all prayer – of all adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and petition – that man has longed to offer. We could never offer it on our own. In His mercy He has offered it and incorporated us into His offering.

Mercy enables true worship.

“We do not know how to pray as we ought,” Saint Paul bluntly states. Mercy does not stand apart from us and demand that – on our own, by our own power – we pray properly. Rather, He has come to us, drawn near, given us His life, and brought us into His. Now our prayer is not so much ours as it is His. “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (Rom 8:16; 26). Without His Spirit we are merely struggling to imitate Him in His prayer. By way of the Spirit He prays within us and perfects all of our feeble offerings.

This greatest mercy we have received we in turn employ for others. “All we can do is pray,” we might on occasion say – treating prayer as a cheap substitution for real assistance. In fact, before any of our acts of mercy comes prayer. Our first duty to the world and for others is to pray – to enter into the Sacrifice of the Mass and allow the Spirit to pray from within us.

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