God have mercy on me, a sinner
How does that simple prayer make you feel?
It sounds rather more abject than our usual tone, perhaps...but I'd want to say that it should be a part of our prayer each and every day.
You see, in the past few decades – throughout my lifetime, I'd guess, - the Church has been encouraging us to focus on God's love more than his judgement...and that is absolutely as it should be.
Hear me now – for this is surely the heart of the gospel...
God loves you – absolutely and unconditionally.
There is nothing in the whole world that you can ever do or say or think that will make God love you any more or any less...God loves you so much that if you were the only person ever born in this world, Christmas and Easter would still have happened – just for you.
God loves you – and has created you for a relationship of love with Him.
Thanks be to God!
But – love is a two way street.
Though every body born into the world exists within that boundless, eternal love – many of them are oblivious to it...and we who know intellectually that we are loved will often struggle to experience that love as our deepest reality.
Jesus tells us in the great commandment not only to love the Lord our God – but also to love our neighbour AS OURSELVES...and that's often a huge struggle, because, you see, we very often don't love ourselves at all.
We grow up believing that inner voice, like that of a little devil sitting on our shoulder telling us “you're not really anything special...You're stupid....lazy....inadequate....”
You can pick your own adjective here – because I'm pretty sure that you'll have one.
You may know, with your rational mind, that this is all a load of nonsense – but very often vestiges of the lies take root and so as we go through life, when sadness hits – when a loved one dies, or illness strikes – that same little voice will whisper “There you are...It's no more than you deserve. Whatever makes you believe that God could love you”.....
and so, often, we find ourselves living a daily lie.
We affirm with our mouths – and maybe even with our minds – that we are God's beloved children – but at a deeper level we fear that actually we are a waste of space.
And that has a huge impact on our connection with God – it makes prayer harder – it makes EVERYTHING harder.
How can we have a loving connection with the Creator of all things if we actually see ourselves as akin to something on the bottom of a shoe...
And, of course, that's where the cross comes in.
Atonement – making us AT ONE with God
Showing us, once and for all, that we ARE beloved and loveable...despite all those negative voices, despite our own deepest fears...
God loves you so much that he CHOSE to die for us...What greater proof could there be?
How much does he love you?
THIS much....and beyond.
But often it's hard to accept that...and that's where reconciliation comes in.
No, of course we are not the worthless beings that our inner voices might claim – but when we raise our eyes and open our minds to reflect on the God who is wholly love, light and eternal perfection – we will surely be very conscious of the gulf between us. We may, at this point, be so overawed that we cannot believe that he loves us...
The closer we come to His light, the more we see of our own inner darkness...
So – we need to face that darkness– to look honestly at ourselves...at the people we really are, deep down...at the mess of contradictions, good intentions, failings and fears...all those things that push our buttons and determine that, as Paul famously put it
“I don't do the good things I want to do, but the bad things I try to avoid, I find I do ALL THE TIME”
Does that sound familiar? It's certainly a reality for me..
So -what to do?
I could retreat – let that reality become my main driver, filling me with the fear that I am fundamentally unloveable.
I could move further away from the light of God's presence, settle for being always less than I'm called to be.
Or perhaps I could pretend – pretend that I really AM the person I'd like to be – the one who is always kind, always loving, who always trusts God and is never afraid.
Sometimes I've carry on that sort of pretend game for months on end – and I doubt if I'm unique.
But you can't build a relationship on the foundation of a lie – particularly when that relationship is with the One to whom all hearts are open.
And deep down, I don't want to.
I want to be at one with God, to know that he loves and accepts me as I am...
I want us to be reconciled....and that means being honest about my situation.
True reconciliation never comes through glibly denying that there is anything wrong.
That's why the Pharisee, who was so very busy applauding himself for being better than anyone else, was completely on the wrong track. He was trying to distract himself – and maybe to distract God too – from the mess within by his loud protestations of holiness...
Anyone who spends so much time praising their own endeavours clearly has a whole heap of problems – whether his words came from the pride of an inflated ego or the insecurity of one who thinks that God needs to be appeased by extravagant offerings, or bribed by lavish gifts.
And there's really no point in doing that – because God knows us through and through, better than we know ourselves – and STILL LOVES US.
So, reconciliation is about learning to be honest about ourselves, about facing hard truths and offering to God those things which we wish we could change.
It may come through a lot of heart-work...as we, like the tax collector, pour out our soul to God in true humility in our private prayers and as we come to worship week by week (that's part of why saying sorry is one of the first things we do during the Eucharist)
It may come as we explore our inner life with the help of a wise “soul friend”, who can make it easier to understand the twists and turns of our spiritual journey.
It may come through the sacrament of reconciliation – a gift that the Church offers to all who are serious about facing the hard truths about themselves and inviting God to transform them.
Always, reconciliation involves finding the courage to be honest before God about our inmost being....those things we cannot love, those things we wish we could change
Because, of course, once we've acknowledged the truth, we are open to the good news that God can and will change us from the inside out, that God will justify us and straighten out the tangled mess of our lives
Reconciliation isn't easy – for us or for God. It costs God the life of his Son – but for all that it is joyous and wonderful because it rests on that central truth that whoever you are, whatever you've done – GOD LOVES YOU ANYWAY.
If you dare to believe this, then it's safe to be yourself with God – to pray this simple prayer
“God have mercy on me a sinner”
and then to let him begin his work of setting all to rights – transforming you as he transforms creation and makes all things new.