The vessel of mercy is our sin. Our sin is usually like a sieve, or a leaky bucket, from which grace quickly drains. “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer 2:13). That is why the Lord had to teach Peter the need to “forgive seventy times seven”. God keeps forgiving, even though he sees how hard it is for his grace to take root in the parched and rocky soil of our hearts. He never stops sowing his mercy and his forgiveness.
HEARTS CREATED ANEW
Let us take a closer look at this mercy of God that is always “greater” than our consciousness of our sinfulness. The Lord never tires of forgiving us; indeed, he renews the wineskins in which we receive that forgiveness. He uses a new wineskin for the new wine of his mercy, not one that is patched or old. That wineskin is mercy itself: his own mercy, which we experience and then show in helping others. A heart that has known mercy is not old and patched, but new and re-created. It is the heart for which David prayed: “A pure heart create for me, O God, put a steadfast spirit within me” (Ps 50:12).
That heart, created anew, is a good vessel; it is no longer battered and leaky. The liturgy echoes the heartfelt conviction of the Church in the beautiful prayer that follows the first reading of the Easter Vigil: “O God who wonderfully created the universe, then more wonderfully re-created it in the redemption”. In this prayer, we affirm that the second creation is even more wondrous than the first. Ours is a heart conscious of having been created anew thanks to the coalescence of its own poverty and God’s forgiveness; it is a “heart which has been shown mercy and shows mercy”. It feels the balm of grace poured out upon its wounds and its sinfulness; it feels mercy assuaging its guilt, watering its aridity with love and rekindling its hope. When, with the same grace, it then forgives other sinners and treats them with compassion, this mercy takes root in good soil, where water does not drain off but sinks in and gives life.
The best practitioners of this mercy that rights wrongs are those who know that they themselves are forgiven and sent to help others. We see this with addiction counsellors: those who have overcome their own addiction are usually those who can best understand, help and challenge others. So too, the best confessors are usually themselves good penitents. Almost all the great saints were great sinners or, like Saint Therese, knew that it was by sheer grace that they were not.
The real vessel of mercy, then, is the mercy which each of us received and which created in us a new heart. This is the “new wineskin” to which Jesus referred (cf. Lk 5:37), the “healed sore”.
Here we enter more deeply into the mystery of the Son, Jesus, who is the Father’s mercy incarnate. Here too we can find the definitive icon of the vessel of mercy in the wounds of the risen Lord. Those wounds remind us that the traces of our sins, forgiven by God, never completely heal or disappear; they remain as scars. Scars are sensitive; they do not hurt, yet they remind us of our old wounds. God’s mercy is in those scars. In the scars of the risen Christ, the marks of the wounds in his hands and feet but also in his pierced heart, we find the true meaning of sin and grace. As we contemplate the wounded heart of the Lord, we see ourselves reflected in him. His heart, and our own, are similar: both are wounded and risen. But we know that his heart was pure love and was wounded because it willed to be so; our heart, on the other hand, was pure wound, which was healed because it allowed itself to be loved.
Full text of Pope Francis’ first meditation for the Retreat for Priests:
Full text of Pope Francis’ second meditation for the Retreat for Priests:
Full text of Pope Francis’ third meditation for the Retreat for Priests:
Courtesy: Vatican Radio.