SummaryThough some may feel sad that the year of mercy has come to an end, John Clark observes that God offers us His mercy, not only every year, but every moment.
Many years ago, the great Dante opened his Divine Comedy with these immortal words:
“Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself in a dark wilderness,
for I had wandered from the straight and true.”
I first read these words when I was eighteen years old. Back then, though I enjoyed Dante’s poetry, I was limited to understanding his words about as much as the average teenager might be. Today at the age of forty-five, I read them with a better understanding, insofar as—if I’m very blessed—I do stand “midway upon the journey” of my life.
As far as wandering is concerned, I’ve done my share: through sin, doubt, and worry and some hybrid of all three. Of course, by the time I was eighteen, I had a significant advantage over poor Dante: I had already met my own Beatrice, who has guided me on this journey—whose life work (as it turns out) has been to grab me from the brink of the Inferno and keep my gaze fixed on Paradise.
The journey continues.
But on this journey, I have encountered many others who have wandered without—thus far—coming back. That lack the willingness to come back. That’s scary.
Dante’s journey was indeed a divine comedy, a comedy because it ended well; his journey began in Hell and ended in Heaven. But for others, their life’s trajectory suggests a divine tragedy—beginning in Heaven and ending in Hell. They have possessed the light of Faith but are now possessed by darkness.
There may be countless roads, but in the end, there are only two possible destinations. We were created for the first, which is an eternal symphony of light where we see our glorious Creator as He truly is in the Beatific Vision.
Or…there is an eternal, inescapable, sepulchral wilderness of or—an ever-represent cacophony of or-ness. Rather than gaze upon God, it is a place where souls are forced to gaze upon an eternal reflection of their broken selves through a darkly-lit mirror, as a frightening reminder of not only who they are, but of who they could have been. In a unique pinnacle of contrast with the Beatific Vision, from which and Whom we would never desire to turn away, those souls are forced to endure a Horrific Vision from which they never can turn away.
Though Jesus offered them an ocean of mercy in life, their souls remained landlocked in a dark and dry wilderness. And there they remain.
We can nuance theology a million different ways, but these are the two possible destinations—these are the two possible choices for us. Because Heaven and Hell, love and hate, are ultimately choices.
Lest you find all this terribly worrisome, it is vital to understand another truth. Some view God as a Being who is playing a game with your soul and cares very little about whether you go to Heaven or Hell.
Some view God as a Being ready to pounce on people for making a mistake. But these views are the sad remnants of Jansenism—a condemned heresy—or worse.
Yes, we can fail.
Yes, we can turn away from God.
Yes, we can use our free will in the worst possible ways.
But the truth is that God is always, always, always desperately willing, wanting, and unwavering in His desire to save your soul. To use a preposterous understatement, God is on your side. God the Father is the Father of mercies, God the Son bled out for you in a cruciform embrace on Calvary and the Holy Spirit is your Advocate.
As a reminder of all this, the Church declared a Year of Mercy in 2015, and it has come to an end. But it is also important to remember that while the year of mercy has ended, the mercy of God has not. The mercy of God will never come to an end.
The year of mercy has been a blessing, but it only highlighted an ever-present and eternal truth. That truth is, as Saint Faustina relates, Jesus “is an ocean of mercy.”
Jesus is an ocean of mercy.
Wherever you are in life—whether your soul is as white as snow or deeply tainted with mortal sins—remember that. The ocean of God’s eternal mercy awaits you.
Even after the four oceans recede, this ocean will still be.
As a devotee of Rod Serling might put it: There is a fifth ocean, which is beyond the comprehension of man. It is a dimension not only of sight and sound but of love. It is an ocean more vast than the universe and as timeless as eternity. It is a wondrous land whose boundaries are known only to God. It is the ocean of God’s mercy.
But as endless as an ocean can seem, it is nevertheless up to us to approach that ocean. Our journey involves using our free will well. Simply put: if you want to experience the ocean of God’s mercy, go to the beach.
The mercy of God does not lack signposts: we know where the ocean of God’s mercy exists. On this side of Heaven, it exists in the sacraments. If you want to experience an ocean of absolution, go to Confession. And if you want to live in a spiritual beach house, live a sacramental life.
A few weeks ago, our whole family went to the beach in Florida. And as I stood on the shore with my daughter Philomena, I reminded her about Jesus comparing His mercy to an ocean. She looked out at the sparkling water and—observing that it seemed endless—smiled. I can write about oceans all day, but there’s no way to grasp this metaphor without standing on an actual shore and looking at an actual ocean.
But the mercy of God dwarfs the giant oceans of the world, and in eternity, all the oceans of the world will seem only a droplet in comparison to what God’s mercy is truly like.
This year, if you’ve been away—if you’ve wandered from the straight and true, please come back. Please come home. You may have missed the year of mercy, but you have not missed the God of mercy.
Because of the God of mercy who loves you, every year is a year of mercy.
Every hour is an hour of mercy.
Every moment is a moment of mercy.
It’s not too late. Not. Even. Close.
As Dante observed: “Remember tonight, for it is the beginning of always.”