Mercy is central to Catholic theology. Pope Francis describes it as, “Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (Misericordiae Vultus 2)
Forgiveness and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are fundamental actions in experiencing mercy and allowing it to work in us. When we acknowledge our own sinfulness and seek forgiveness, we experience God’s mercy. Our response to God’s gift of mercy is one of gratitude that compels us to extend mercy to those around us.
According to Father Bob Weiss, C.P., “It seems today that we handle the forgiveness of sins in two ways. First, the most common one, we deny that we even have sin. We forgive our sins by saying they are not sins in the first place. That’s the easiest way to forgive sins. It is a very false way. They are not forgiven at all, because sin distorts and twists. Whether we know it’s a sin or not, it makes us crooked. So sins are not forgiven by saying there is no such thing as sin anyway.
“The other way to forgive sin is to acknowledge that we have to confess our sins. We acknowledge we are guilty. We recognize we did the wrong thing and seek God’s forgiveness.”
Forgiveness and the Sacrament of Reconciliation are fundamental actions in experiencing mercy and allowing it to work in us.
Father Bob, who has a background in Scripture scholarship, finds Psalm 51 to be a “dandy one” for the Hebrew understanding of sin and forgiveness.
Verse three of the Psalm reads: “Be gracious (ḥānan) to me, O God, according to your loving kindness According to the greatness of your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (NAS)
The verb ḥānan depicts a heartfelt response by someone who has something to give to one who has a need. It often has the sense of showing kindness to the poor and needy.
“We are total products of God’s mercy. When we get the gift, we have to use it. That gift of mercy has to work in us,” explains Father Bob.
“Often people say ‘I can’t forgive myself.’ Well that’s’ true. Only God forgives. We can’t forgive ourselves. There is nothing we can do to expiate our guilt. Jesus expiated our guilt on the cross. By his blood we are washed clean.
“That’s why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is very important for experiencing mercy. To experience forgiveness is to experience mercy.”