…and Makes Mercy Possible

Realize that with actions that come from our passions we must treat them as a deep wound that take a long time to heal.

Sr. Lisa Marie Doty

Earlier today we talked about love is not going along with a sin by giving into what is called weaponized empathy because if a Christian does so and helps a person to eternal death you are actually doing the opposite of love.  One has to tell the truth about sin, or you can’t combat it.

But having acknowledging that one must always lead with truth brings up another point.  Once you’ve established truth, you have to follow-up with mercy.

The best way to explain it is to tell the story of how my parents quit smoking.

For those of you too young to remember there was a time when a cigarette in a person hand was as common as a smartphone, in fact even more so.  And when the surgeon general’s report on the link between cigarettes and cancer came out it was a long time before most people were able to walk away.

My father was not one of them.  Although he had smoked since he was a kid, as soon as he found out about the cancer risk, he took every single cigarette he had and tossed them.

My mother was a different story.

She had also smoked since her youth but she wasn’t as anxious to quit as my father, so after waiting a year he decided to motivate her.  Whenever he found her cigarettes he tossed them.  My mother being who she was responded by buying more and smoking them.

This went on for several years until my father went to my mother one day and said he gave up, if she wanted to smoke he wasn’t going to stop her.  The moment he said this she took every cigarette she had and tossed them herself.  It looked a lot like the big climax between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man:

Now Dad was right in thinking that it would have been healthier for his wife to stop smoking at once.  He wasn’t pushing her to quit because he wanted to dominate her, because he thought himself better or smarter than her, he did what he did because he loved her and wanted to protect her and save her from something that was deadly.

But in his zeal to save her he attempted to impose his will and this is simply not the way to go.

This is the same principle when you’re dealing with someone trying to break the cycle of habitual sin.  If you’re going to be of any help you have to show mercy and patience.  Here are some excellent rules to remember along those line:

Everyone isn’t the same:

Some people can do things cold turkey, some have to do things gradually.  Some people will believe something they are told, some need time to process things. people can’t.  Some people have to work themselves toward a goal others can just dive in.  In terms of helping someone away from long term sin, as long as you aren’t either sinning yourself or encouraging others to do so, the method is less important than the goal.  Helping them along whatever path they take to conquer their sin, that’s mercy.  Forcing them along a particular path, that’s not.

It’s not about you:

Never forget that if you are helping someone away from long term sin it’s not about getting kudos for yourself as my 8th grade teacher Sr. Janet used to say: “Pin a rose on me”.  It’s about helping that other person.  The moment you make it so you become the Pharisee in the Temple:

He then addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.

“Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.  The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, ‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, adulterous – or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’

But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’  I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

If you focus on helping them get through their issues, it’s about mercy.  If you make it about you then you jump into the sin of pride, and whose going to be there to help you out?

There are going to be failures along the way:

Any person who goes to confession knows that it’s not uncommon to be confessing the same sins over and over because those are the sins you are working on, vulnerable to, and tempted to.  A person working themselves away from serious sin is very likely to have setbacks.  You don’t toss out the person who has setbacks, you don’t excuse failure, you help someone overcome it.  That’s mercy.


In the end they have to make the choice:

Despite all the prayers, all the help and all the effort, all the doors the spirit opens and all the graces Jesus & Mary make available in the end a person has to exercise their free will, recognize the truth and accept the mercy Christ offers.   It doesn’t matter if it’s your spouse, your kid, your friend, or a stranger no matter how much brush you clear away from the narrow path, they have to choose to walk it. 

Bottom line:  Truth without mercy is a trap both for the sinner and those counseling them.   For the Counselor, truth without Mercy leads not just to the same result of mercy without truth,  the sin of pride,  but what Screwtape describes as “that most beautiful of the vices” Spiritual Pride.  For the sinner in question it’s even worse.  While mercy without truth keeps a person in their sins, Truth without mercy has a great potential to lead to self loathing and despair.  A cycle as frightening as the base sin itself.  Remember part of forgiveness is being able to forgive oneself and that requires mercy from within which grows from mercy from without .

Or put simply  Truth + Mercy = Love.

That’s God all over.