Author’s note: I am in need of mercy. I need to better receive it from God. I also need to grow in extending it to my fellow Christians. So, dear community, forgive me: this note is for me. I’m sharing it in case it can help you in any way, too. Lord have mercy on us all!
Yesterday morning I noticed a rose blooming in my garden. I’ve had only a few roses this summer, and I love them. So I intended to go out, cut it, and bring it into the house for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately this is such a busy week for our family that I didn’t actually get to it until this morning. To my dismay, when I approached the rose, I found that it was already widely opened and also that it was full of holes. Apparently yesterday’s heat and a couple of voracious Japanese beetles nearly did it in before I got to it. My immediate thought was, “I won’t bother with this one. It’s too far gone.”
But then I thought about how precious this rose is: I’ve had so few roses in my garden this summer, it is one of only a handful! Then I smelled it, and the glorious aroma that can only come from a home-grown rose filled my lungs. So I cut it after all, put it in a favorite little vase, and brought it inside.
As I prepared to write this note on the mercy of God I thought again about my rose, and I began to see a parallel between the story of me and my little shredded rose and the mercy of God. Think about it with me, if you will: How often do we intend to do something and not get around to it until much later? How often do we meet a person or arrive at a situation only to discover that he/she/it is nearly too far gone and/or full of “holes;” imperfect or not to our liking? How often are we tempted to turn away from a task or an individual because it seems that it is/they are impossible or not “worth” our time? How often do we refuse to show mercy, love, acceptance of, and forgiveness to the people and/or opportunities that God sets before us?
Glory to God who does not give up on US for being so lacking in mercy. Instead, He abundantly gives us His grace repeatedly: through His Church, through the sacraments, through the Holy Scriptures, through fellow Christians, through the saints – I could go on and on listing all the ways in which God grants us mercy. His mercy is always there, whether or not we can (or choose to) see it.
But instead of “not bothering with us because we are too far gone,” God sees our preciousness. After all, He created us in His image and loves us with perfect Love. He sees what we experience; He knows what has put the “holes” in our souls, whether things we have chosen for ourselves or things that have happened to us; and yet He continues to love us and extend His mercy to us.
St. Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) I don’t know about you, but, left to my own devices, my life is anything but fragrant, as I tend to choose smelly attitudes and the stench of my own selfishness. But St. Paul’s letter says that, to God, that is, in His eyes, in His estimation, we are “the fragrance of Christ!” Wow! Only God’s mercy can make it possible for us to contain His aroma. Only through His compassionate grace can we feebly offer His fragrance to the world. But apparently it is right here inside each of us. (Incidentally, that means His fragrance is in others, too: but we must approach them despite whatever may deter us, to truly smell it.)
Just as I cut my imperfect rose and brought it into my home, by the mercy of God He has cut us from our sinful passions and brought us into His holy house. He has placed us in the right “container,” the Church, and filled it with what we need for nourishment. His aroma flows through us and can bring great joy to all around us if we allow it to, and if we encourage others to approach us despite our flaws. Similarly, as we draw near to others and extend His mercy despite theirs, we will be blessed with the beauty of Christ’s aroma wafting into our lives through them!
By the way, in case you wondered, that rose is now sitting on our family’s prayer table. It is a perfect reminder for whatever days it has left, of God’s mercy towards us despite our imperfections. My shredded rose sits in our little holy space offering what it has, its glorious aroma, to all who pass by. May we do the same, by the grace and mercy of God.
”And now, O Master, let Thy hand shelter me, and let Thy mercy come upon me; for my soul is troubled and in distress at its departure from my wretched and defiled body. May the evil counsel of the adversary never overtake it and bind it in darkness through the sins which I have committed in this life, whether in knowledge or in ignorance. Be merciful unto me, O Master, and let not my soul see the dark forms of the evil demons, but may Thy bright and shining Angels receive it. Give glory to Thy holy name, and by Thy might lead me unto Thy divine judgment seat. When I am being judged, may the hand of the prince of this world not seize me and snatch me, a sinner, into the depths of hades; but do Thou stand by me, and be unto me a Savior and Helper, for these present bodily torments are a joy to Thy servants.”
— Prayer of St. Eustratius, Saturday Midnight Office
The following are quotes from the saints on the mercy of God:
Let there always be a preponderance of mercy with you, even though you don’t feel such mercy in yourself, as God has for the world … A cruel and merciless heart is never purified. A merciful man is the doctor of his own soul, because as it were a by a strong wind from is heart he drives out the darkness of the passions.
(St. Isaac the Syrian, Homilies, 41)
“The mercy of God is hidden in sufferings not of our choice; and if we accept such sufferings patiently, they bring us to repentance and deliver us from everlasting punishment.”
— St. Mark the Ascetic
“A handful of sand, thrown into the sea, is what sinning is, when compared to God’s Providence and mercy. Just as an abundant source of water is not impeded by a handful of dust, so also the Creator’s mercy is not defeated by the sins of His creations.” – St. Isaac the Syrian (of Nineveh)
“If at some time you show mercy to someone, mercy will be shown to you.
If you show compassion to one who is suffering (and of course, this is not a great deed) you will be numbered among the martyrs.
If you forgive one who has insulted you, then not only will all your sins be forgiven, but you will be a child of the Heavenly Father.
If you pray from all your heart for salvation – even a little – you will be saved.
If you rebuke yourself, accuse yourself, and judge yourself before God for your sins, with a sensitive conscience, even for this you will be justified.
If you are sorrowful for your sins, or you weep, or sigh, your sigh will not be hidden from Him and, as St. John Chrysostom says, ‘If you only lament for your sins, then He will receive this for your salvation.’”
+ St. Moses of Optina
You see very clearly that it is extremely difficult, and without God’s grace and your own fervent prayer and abstinence, impossible, for you to change for the better. You feel within yourself the action of a multitude of passions: of pride, malice, envy, greediness, the love of money, despondency, slothfulness, fornication, impatience, and disobedience; and yet you remain in them, are often bound by them, whilst the long-suffering Lord bears with you, awaiting your return and amendment; and still bestows upon you all the gifts of His mercy.
Be then indulgent, patient, and loving to those who live with you, and who also suffer from many passions; conquer every evil by good, and, above all, pray to God for them, that He may correct them—that He may turn their hearts to Himself, the source of holiness.
Do not help the Devil to spread his kingdom. Hallow the name of your Heavenly Father by your actions; help Him to spread His Kingdom on earth. ‘For we are laborers together with God.’
Be zealous of the fulfillment of His will on earth, as it is in heaven. Forgive them that trespass against you with joy, as a good son rejoices when he has a chance of fulfilling the will of his beloved father.
+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ
“If your heart has been softened either by repentance before God or by learning the boundless love of God towards you, do not be proud with those whose hearts are still hard. Remember how long your heart was hard and incorrigible. Seven brothers were ill in one hospital. One recovered from his illness and got up and rushed to serve his other brothers with brotherly love, to speed their recovery. Be like this brother. Consider all men to be your brothers, and sick brothers at that. And if you come to feel that God has given you better health than others, know that it is given through mercy, so in health you may serve your frailer brothers.”
— St Nikolai Velimirovich, Prologue, 31 March
“God is loving to man, and loving in no small measure. For say not, I have committed fornication and adultery: I have done dreadful things, and not once only, but often: will He forgive? Will He grant pardon? Hear what the Psalmist says: How great is the multitude of Your goodness, O Lord!
Your accumulated offenses surpass not the multitude of God’s mercies: your wounds surpass not the great Physician’s skill. Only give yourself up in faith: tell the Physician your ailment: say thou also, like David: I said, I will confess me my sin unto the Lord: and the same shall be done in your case, which he says immediately: And you forgave the wickedness of my heart”
— St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lecture 2.6
If you are truly merciful, then when what is yours is unjustly taken, don’t be sad inside, and do not tell of our loss to your neighbor. Let a better loss, inflicted by those who insult you, be absorbed by your mercy.
(St. Isaac the Syrian, Homilies, 58)