What doth it profit a man to attend Latin Masses, but not live like the Good Samaritan?
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Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Mystery of Mercy

Pope Francis' comments about mercy brought to my mind something I read as a teenager. It helped me over a very rough time in my own life and prepared me in some small way for encountering Jesus Christ some years later. Get ready for the cries of outrage and rending of garments...
The world can only be "consistent" without God. 

His freedom will always threaten it with inconsistency -- with unexpected gifts.

A god who is fitted into our world scheme in order to make it serious and consistent is not God.

Such a world is not to be taken seriously, such a god is not to be taken seriously. If such a god is "absent" then doubtless the absence is a blessing.

To take him seriously s to submit to obsession, to doubt, to magic, and then to escape these, or try to escape them, by willfulness, by the determination to stake all on an arbitrary selection of "things to be taken seriously" because the "save," because they are "his" affairs." (Note that even atheism takes seriously this god of consistency). 

But mercy breaks into the world of magic and justice and overturns its apparent consistency. It is therefore comic. It liberates us from the tragic seriousness of the obsessive world which we have "made up" for ourselves by yielding to our obsessions. Only mercy can liberate us from the madness of our determination to be consistent -- from the awful pattern of lusts, greeds, angers and hatreds which mix us up together like a mass of dough and thrust us into the oven. 

Mercy cannot be contained within the web of obsessions. 

Nor is it something one determines to think about -- that one resolves to "take seriously," in the sense of becoming obsessed with it. 

You cannot become obsessed with mercy! 

This is the inner secret of mercy. It is totally incompatible with obsession, with compulsion. It liberated from all the rigid deterministic structures which magic tries to impose on reality (or which science, the child of magic, tries to impose)! 

Mercy is not to be purchased by a set way of acting, by a formal determination to be consistent. 

Law is consistent. Grace is inconsistent. 

The cross is the sign of contradiction -- destroying the seriousness of the law, of the Empire, of the armies, of blood sacrifice, and of obsession. 

But the magicians keep turning the Cross to their own purposes. Yes, it is for them too a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the Cross contradict mercy! This of course is the ultimate temptation of Christianity! To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved--while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy which alone is truly serious, and worthy of being taken seriously.

Thomas Merton, To Each His Darkness

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