Wading in the Ocean of Mercy

I met Frank at the Ramsey County Jail. He asked to see a chaplain, and I responded to his request with a visit. I gave him the Bible that he requested and asked if he wanted to talk. He did.

Frank began to recount the story of how he ended up in jail. The story was painful, and tears ran down Frank’s cheeks as he told me the story. He explained how he had lost his temper and seriously hurt a family member. Frank described what it was like to find himself in jail, after years of keeping his life together. He talked about the loneliness and isolation. He couldn’t trust anyone inside the jail with his most personal tragedy, so he kept it inside. He said it felt good to talk.

As I listened to Frank’s story, I felt his pain and tried to imagine what kind of guilt and shame he must have been feeling. I asked him if he knew the Lord. Frank said he was getting to know Him again but thought that not even God could forgive what he had done. It was time for me to share a story.

I can’t tell you how many times I have opened my Bible to the 15th chapter of Luke, to share the story of the prodigal son with a man who is really hurting. Like most of us, Frank doubted that God could forgive him. He was certain that the family member he hurt would never forgive him.

I invited Frank to imagine the largest body of water he could conjure up in his mind and to tell me how wide and how deep the water was. Could he see to the other side of the water? Could his feet touch the bottom? I told Frank that God’s mercy was like that giant body of water: huge, wide and deep. It was bigger than his sin.

The Father loves each of us with a love that is beyond our human understanding. Like any parent, I suspect the Father wants to see his children succeed. Success in the Father’s eyes is very different than our idea of success. I assured Frank that the Father’s mercy was far bigger than his sin, and if he expressed his sorrow and asked for forgiveness, he would be welcomed home again.

I sat there with Frank for probably half an hour. In that time, he told me his deepest, dark secret, and I told him about the Father’s mercy. We read the story of the prodigal son, and Frank shared that his own father was nothing like the father in that story. Could it really be that God the Father loved him in ways his own father could not? Frank’s heart was open. He asked if he could tell the Father his story and express his sorrow. I offered to have a priest come and hear his confession.

Our sin is a lot like the jail cell that Frank returned to after our visit. Sin is dark and confining and closes us in, so we see ourselves at our worst. As humans, we are fallen. We have all suffered the effects of the sin of our first parents. Each of us will be tempted in different ways, during our life on earth. The Father knows each of us. He knows how we are made, and He knows the struggles we face in our lives. He is ever-merciful, loving and patient with us, as we struggle toward the Kingdom He has prepared for us.

The father in the story of the prodigal son forgives his son without judgment. Not only does he forgive him, but he celebrates his return home. You and I are called to show mercy to those who have hurt us, as well as to those who have lost their way. In this beautiful story, we see a son who is lost, another who is angry and a father who sees past both of their faults and loves them because they are his children. We are God’s children! Let us open our hearts to a merciful love that is vast, deep and powerful. As we receive that love into our hearts, we, like the father in our story, will be able to share that kind of selfless love with others. God changes the world by His vast merciful love, one person at a time, through the hearts and hands of those who accept the gospel challenge to love as He did.

May we each be transformed by God’s merciful love!

Deacon Tim

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