Merciful Like the Father
We are called to live in the truth and to love our neighbor, reserving judgment and practicing forgiveness
By Supreme Knight Patrick E. Kelly
OURS IS A TIME that calls for the proclamation of eternal truths, for standing boldly and inviting others to what we know is “a still more excellent way” (1 Cor 12:31).
At the same time, ours is a climate that tempts us into hypercriticism and an almost dehumanized judgment that goes beyond calling one another into the truth.
Last month, in a Lenten Gospel reading, we heard Christ say, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Our Lord then drilled down and gave his disciples more detailed instruction on what, exactly, it means to be merciful. “Stop judging, and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned,” he said. “For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Lk 6:36-38).
Stop judging. Stop condemning. These words are hard for us to hear. But the truth is also hard for us to hear, and yet we need it just as much! As Christians, our task is to reconcile these two callings by imitating the Lord, who is “abounding in mercy and truth” (Ps 86:15).
For most of us, criticism comes very easily. It’s the easiest of habits to fall into and an extremely hard one to break. The far more difficult thing is to offer the benefit of the doubt, to turn the other cheek, to be “merciful like the Father.”
It’s a tremendous irony that when we judge and condemn, we attempt to assume the place of God. We give into that original human temptation to rebel and to “become like gods” (Gen 3:5). And yet we do so in the precise moment that our Lord is calling us to be like God in exhibiting mercy!
Of course, our human expression of mercy can never match the Father’s, which is based on a complete and perfect understanding of the truth of the matter. He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. Our human judgments will always be flawed, clouded as they are by our own pride and selfishness. Through that clouded lens, we often fail to see others as God does, as brothers and sisters made in his image and likeness.
Can our judgments be true? Certainly. But rather than bearing lasting fruit, they often pull us into a cycle of negativity and resentment that hurts us as much as it does those we are criticizing.
One of the great Christian witnesses of the 20th century was Venerable Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuân, who was imprisoned by the communist North Vietnamese government for 13 years. He wrote of the prison we create for ourselves through judgment and condemnation: “To remember a person’s defects is to hold onto the past and to concentrate on that person’s worst side, as if no other existed! No one’s life is frozen; everyone is constantly evolving, changing, growing. You must concentrate your entire attention on the present and future, rather than on the past.”
For each of us, there will be a judgment and a measuring — that is clear in Jesus’ words. But it is the Lord who will judge and who will measure each of us — both according to how we follow God’s commandments, and how well we adhere to Christ’s “new commandment” to love one another (Jn 13:34).
We must strive to look at one another as the Father does. Our task is to know, love and serve God and to proclaim his eternal truths, all the while being witnesses of his mercy.
Especially in these days of cultural confusion, we must offer the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We must offer fraternal correction at times and call our brothers to the more excellent way. But we must do so with a clear understanding of the imperfections in our knowledge of ourselves and others, and therefore be slow to judge and quick to forgive.
If we are to be brothers, we must strive to look at one another as the Father does. Our task is to know, love and serve God and to proclaim his eternal truths, all the while being witnesses of his mercy.