We call upon the Lord’s Mercy many times during the Holy Mass; Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy. I fear many of us fall into the trap of misunderstanding this cry for God’s mercy. The modern sense of mercy is highly influenced by Protestantism and Enlightenment thought and philosophy. This causes mercy to take on a more legalistic understanding.
For example, we have the popular expression, “I throw myself on the mercy of the court.” This expression generally expresses a desire for the court to not inflict a punishment for the crime. We can make the mistake of applying this same reasoning to the relationship between God’s forgiveness and our sins. We call upon God’s mercy in this legalistic way with a desire for God to overlook the guilt of our sins and not inflict a punishment. This is a completely errant understanding of God’s mercy.
When we ask for mercy, what we are in fact asking for is God’s healing. The grace of God transforms and restores our soul to a state of righteousness and goodness. God’s mercy is a restoration of our entire being, not simply the discarding of sins and the removal of punishment.
The removal of punishment, in a legalistic sense, is an act of clemency. To further highlight the point, a court room can offer us clemency while a hospital can offer us mercy. God, in fact, offers us both. Our Lord forgives our sins and remembers them no more but He also empowers us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit to be perfect, just as Our Heavenly Father is perfect.
God does not simply offer us a bandage to cover-up and hide our wounds. Our Lord nurses us back to health by providing us with nourishment, friendship, and love. This is the relationship we are longing for when we call upon the Lord’s mercy. Lord heal me, Christ heal me, Lord heal me.