Reflecting on the Year of Mercy: A Letter from Sister Sally Duffy, SC
Can you forgive God, your parents and yourself? I remember a priest at Notre Dame University beginning a homily with this question. Forgiving one’s self begins with recognizing that God forgives our sins. Yet one must begin by acknowledging our own sins, betrayals, denials, wretchedness, and collusion.
Without believing in God’s forgiveness and mercy, it truly is difficult to live our lives believing that, “the Lord precedes us; he anticipates us. I believe the same can be said of his divine mercy, which heals our wounds, he anticipates our need for it. God waits; he waits for us to concede him only the smallest glimmer of space so that he can enact his forgiveness and his charity within us. Only he who has been touched and caressed by the tenderness of his mercy really knows the Lord. For this reason I have often said that the place where my encounter with mercy takes place is my sin.”1
“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” (Luke 18:14.) Society tends to have an aversion to admitting our sinfulness individually and collectively. The first commandment emphasized not having strange gods in place of the one, true God. There is so much emphasis on power, success, prestige, security, self-sufficiency, narcissism, judgment and attachment to the letter of the law. Are we moving from being act-centered to person-centered and examining the pattern that forms the fundamental direction of our lives in relationship to God?
Indifference and self-sufficiency can blind us to our sinfulness of turning away from God’s love and seeking reliance in false gods rather than total reliance and dependence on God. Our fundamental direction can be self-absorption, corruption and collusion in social sin.
In this Year of Mercy we are called again to open our hearts to our own sinfulness and to prayerfully ask for forgiveness, to feel and experience the loving embrace and tenderness of the Lord’s mercy, and to recognize that repentance is our needed response to mercy.
Our repentance can never be a single act – but rather a daily commitment to the space and time to grow more deeply in our relationship with God. When our broken, wounded relationship with God is mended, our love and joy become contagious and extend out to others.
We can deny our sinfulness as individuals or as a society and never truly experience compassion, forgiveness and mercy. We can compare ourselves to others and see ourselves as better than others and self-sufficient. We can be complacent and indifferent and not allow ourselves to be called into question. As Pope Francis reminds us, one can spend their life “taking opportunistic shortcuts at the costs of his own and others dignity. The corrupt man always has the gall to say: It wasn’t me!”2
Narcissism can focus our attention on “licking our wounds.” This is an “illness that can make people bitter. There is pleasure in feeling bitter, an unhealthy pleasure.”3 We can stay lost in despair and our wounds can stay open and never heal. We must acknowledge our hurt, our lack of forgiveness and belief in God’s forgiveness and healing.
Seeking forgiveness, acknowledging how we have wronged and hurt God and one another and the community, and then committing ourselves to turning toward God should be evident through compassion, greater understanding and forgiveness of all our brothers and sisters. We will then no longer see our churches, mosques or synagogues as buildings but rather “field hospitals” where we seek out people in need of listening, understanding, forgiveness and love.
Only when we let ourselves be embraced, treated, loved, and forgiven by God can our lives change.
Sister Sally Duffy, SC
President and Executive Director
SC Ministry Foundation
1, 2, 3: The Name of God is Mercy, by Pope Francis