April 1, 2016

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

How will we RSVP to God’s calls to accept and to extend mercy?

Patti LambOur refrigerator door has become especially crowded lately, as Margaret, our 8-year-old daughter, has been invited to multiple birthday parties, all within a short time frame.

Each invitation ended with the standard RSVP line and a phone number or e-mail address, which prompted Margaret to inquire about the meaning of RSVP.

I explained that “RSVP” is a fancy way of saying, “Please say whether you accept or decline this invitation.”

After replying to one of the invitations, I went to place it back on the fridge so I’d have the address handy. As I lifted the magnet, our parish bulletin from Easter Sunday fell to the floor.

When I stooped to pick it up, I glanced at the cover featuring the Risen Christ, and recognized that bulletin as another sort of invitation. It was an invitation to me and to you—an invitation to forgiveness.

The bulletin celebrated the Resurrection of Easter, how God’s only Son gave his life, defeating death, to restore our relationship with our heavenly Father. It also included a beautiful message about Divine Mercy Sunday, which occurs on the octave of Easter (the Sunday after Easter). This year, that special occasion falls on April 3. Pope Francis has also declared this a Holy Year of Mercy.

And a thought came to me: All around us are multiple invitations to accept God’s mercy, and to extend the gift of mercy to others.

But God’s invitation is subtle. It doesn’t come via the U.S. postal service or e-mail or social media, so I don’t necessarily pause to respond to God. I neglect to RSVP.

God isn’t forceful. He’s a loving God. His is a standing invitation, and it is always there when we are ready to embrace it.

On Pope Francis’ third anniversary of his installation, he gave this message, not so much celebrating his personal milestone, but proclaiming the Year of Mercy: “God does not nail us to our sins; He does not identify us with the evil we have committed. … God wants to free us. … This is possible with God’s grace.”

My cousin once shared a little nugget of wisdom with me. I’m not sure where she read it, so I can’t properly document the source, but it goes like this: “Grace is when you get the good things you don’t deserve. Mercy is when you’re spared from the bad things you do deserve. God is generous with both.”

Will we accept his mercy? Will we extend mercy to those who have deeply hurt us?

I reflect on the words Jesus gave us to instruct us.

“Seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22)

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk 23:34)

I once saw a beautifully stated quote about forgiveness, and I wrote it down so that I could revisit it. “Forgiveness is the place we come to when we surrender judgment and allow divine love to express through us.”

Friends, there are many times when I seriously struggle to forgive. I’ve read that forgiveness is an attribute of the spiritually strong. I suppose I have much spiritual exercising to do.

Sometimes I can’t fathom how the unjustly wronged find the strength to forgive. I’ve seen it in my own parish community, when a young woman whose husband’s life was tragically stolen, publicly forgave the young man who took her husband’s life. Her witness to God’s mercy inspires me. It echoes God’s message of unfailing grace and mercy.

All around me—all around us—are God’s calls to accept and to extend mercy.

How will we RSVP?

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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