“Love’s Second Name”
By: Krista Keil
Title and excerpts taken from St. John Paul II’s homily, on April 30, 2000
The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word “mercy,” is a scene from Full House, in which I can hear Uncle Jesse saying, “Have Mercy!” While funny, this is a prime example of how the word “mercy” is misused and misunderstood in our modern day society. In secular spaces, I don’t often hear the concept of “mercy” being talked about much- but why not? Mercy. What is it? What does it mean?
Mercy, simply put, is forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to human flourishing and promoting a thriving community. Forgiveness is also essential in our relationship with God and should be an indispensable part of our daily lives- in any form of relationship. However, it seems that the power of forgiveness is often forgotten. However, if you’ve ever had a dispute with someone you love, then you know how important it is to forgive and be forgiven, and how much this can impact the human psyche.
Last month, I wrote about transforming our sufferings. Forgiveness enables us to do just that. Forgiveness holds the power to redeem us from our past transgressions and those that have been done to us. Although easier said than done, forgiveness allows us to take a painful experience and turn it into an experience of healing; an act that we hope will be reciprocated by those we embark on this experience with. The opportunity of forgiveness paves a path for hope; hope in a new beginning, a fresh start.
Better yet, the experience of forgiveness is open to us daily through our relationship with God and with others. The beauty of forgiveness lies in its constant, radical availability to us in our daily lives. Forgiveness is an act that is an ever present opportunity for the human heart, if we choose to embrace it. God is always inviting us into a deeper relationship with Himself and with others, through the unconditional offer of forgiveness, of mercy. The best part is, if we seek it, God reciprocates every time. Every time, without fail, He responds to us graciously. Is this not the approach we should take with others in our own lives?
Our relationship with God provides the perfect model of forgiveness for us, from which we should seek to emulate our human relationships. This is why, when we choose to forgive, we participate in something divine. I encourage you to reflect upon the last time you asked for someone’s forgiveness. The words, “will you forgive me” hold more power than we can fathom. When was the last time you uttered the words, “I forgive you?” When was the last time you acknowledged your shortcomings and asked, “Will you forgive me?”
Saint John Paull II (JPII) famously referred to mercy as “Love’s second name,” in a homily he delivered on April 30, 2000. JPII mentions how an act of mercy, of forgiveness, is an act of Love; an act of caritas (charity). St. JPII says,
“Mercy re-establishes the relationship of each person with God, and also creates new relations of fraternal solidarity among human beings...man is called to practice mercy towards others. And is not mercy love's "second name," understood in its deepest and most tender aspect, in its ability to take upon itself the burden of any need and, especially, in its immense capacity for forgiveness?”
As JPII expresses, mercy itself gives form not only to our relationship with God, but also to human relations and community life. This passage also alludes to mercy as a gift; an exchange that occurs in relationship with another, that opens the door to spiritual freedom and lifts our burdens. Ultimately, loving your neighbor requires forgiveness and is an act that is mutually beneficial: to be a participant in an act of the will that requires reciprocity, giving and receiving.
Although we may not always pin it as such, mercy is a natural desire of the human heart; without it, we are left in our hurt, our grief, and isolated from one another. Thus, mercy, or forgiveness, is an essential virtue that can transform our lives, our habits, and our relationships. I will leave you to ponder how mercy takes shape in your own life: what is it that you believe about God’s Mercy?