With the festivities of Christmastide, we have once again marked the arrival of the Word Made Flesh. As we celebrate his Baptism, we discover anew the astonishing truth of the Trinity, for with the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father enfolding all who were present, the drama of divine mercy was made manifest.
In the quieter days ahead, we can embrace the Year of Mercy with our full attention. But we would do well to allow the carols of Christmas to continue playing in the background in order to understand just what that mercy entails. With Frosty and Rudolph as the default icons of the season, it can be hard to remember that the point of Christmas is reconciliation. Surely, family warmth and neighborly cheer prevail, but the “spirit of Christmas” is predicated on the sad fact that we need to work at love in this fallen world. And despite the constant effort to cleanse the Public Square of specific references to any “particular” God, love of neighbor begins with reverence for the one true God, and the acknowledgement that our relationship with Him has been disrupted.
The carols that may or may not have broken through our consciousness in past weeks included lyrics noting that “God and sinner are reconciled” (Hark the Herald Angels Sing), “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight” (O Little Town of Bethlehem), “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, til He appeared and the soul felt its worth” (O Holy Night), and “Good Christian, fear: for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading. No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessing flow far as the curse is found” (Joy to the World).
Sin. Sorrow. Error. Fear. These are why Jesus came. As Aquinas taught in the Summa, the point of mercy “does most properly belong to Him to dispel that misery, whatever be the defect we call by that name. Now defects are not removed, except by the perfection of some kind of goodness; and the primary source of goodness is God.”
As we embark on our study of mercy, then, we must understand how sin is couched in error, and how it can only be conquered by truth. Misery is directly related to a defect, and such defects preclude happiness. We are hard-wired for happiness; that is why unhappiness is so crippling -- it is fundamentally opposed to the God-given nature that is made precisely for that state of being. And that is why trying to find happiness apart from being good is such a pipe dream. Thus, error (or what we know as sin) is anything that we choose that is contrary to the good (which is God), and each poor choice in that regard is another step away from true and lasting happiness.
Thus, an essential message about the Year of Mercy is not that it changes the relationship between sin and sorrow: they cannot be separated. It’s that the relationship between reconciliation and mercy have been supercharged with grace. That means that any turning back toward the good is rewarded abundantly, and any sorrow over poor choices allows a flood of God’s own love to penetrate to the marrow of our being.
This is why God is so “well pleased” with his Son, because the Source of all good has come to remove the curse, and dispense mercy for all who ask, for all who turn back, for all who want happiness. Kneeling before God is a simple way to acknowledge the good, to renounce the error, and receive the grace. Act, and grace will flow. How easy to bring joy to your world.
Mrs. Kineke is a parishioner of Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich, and can be found online at feminine-genius.com.