More Mercy on the Brain

Back in April 2015, I posted to PrayTell about having mercy on the brain .  I wondered whether the five to nine times that mercy is mentioned in the ordinary of the Mass each Sunday might constitute an overload; perhaps fewer references would give greater weight to the idea of God’s mercy.

Here I want to go in the other direction, using Augustine as a touchstone.  In Homilies on John 25, 16, the bishop of Hippo declares: “God has become man; you, man, recognize that you are a human being.  The sum of humility for you consists in knowing yourself.”  In Sermon 137, 4¸ Augustine preaches: “Anyone who wishes to play God while he is just a man is not imitating the one who, while he was God, became a man.  You are not being told, ‘Be something less than you are,’ but ‘Understand what you are.  Understand that you’re weak, understand that you are merely human, understand that you are a sinner.  Understand that he is the one who justifies.” Arguing—with good reason—that pride is the root of sin, Augustine’s understanding of the incarnation as expressed in Enarr. Ps. 18.2.15 is grounded in the notion that

“It was because of this vice, this great sin of pride, that the Lord came in humility. This great sin, this devastating disease in the souls of men and women, brought down from heaven the all-powerful doctor, humbled him to take the form of a servant, loaded him with insults and hung him on a cross, and all this so that through the healing properties of such powerful medicine our swelling might be cured. Now at long last let men and women be ashamed to be proud, since for them God became humble.”

Celebration of the Paschal Mystery, whether preeminently in the Eucharistic liturgy or in any of the other sacraments of the Church, always involves anamnesis, that is, a calling to mind and making-present of God’s mighty deeds on behalf of humanity.  This anamnesis also involves recalling and rightly understanding who we are.  No doubt this means grasping that we are sinners, that we miss the mark.  Yet we also stand before God as those invited into God’s presence.  We stand before God as those loved by God.  None of this is meant to imply that those who do not gather with us are *not* loved by God, of course.  Rather, it means that those who have assembled as loved by God are moved to praise and thank God.

The humility of which Augustine speaks, then, is surely a matter of not aiming too high.  (See Adam and Eve, fall of.)  Knowing oneself is also, however, a matter of not aiming too low.  Being loved by God is the root of human dignity: “the root reason for human dignity lies in man’s call to communion with God” (Gaudium et spes, no. 19) .

In our daily and weekly celebration of the Mass, we stress mercy again and again because we praise God for the divine mercy and because we desperately need that mercy to claim the worthiness offered to us.

(All citations of Augustine are from Augustine. The Works of Saint Augustine. Edited by Boniface Ramsey. 50 vols. Hyde Park, New York: New City Press, 1990-).

 

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  1. Of all Pope Francis’s qualities that have made him so appealing, such a godsend in this day and age, I believe that humility is the key. It allows him to speak with such authenticity about assisting refugees, and about the effects of globalization and climate change on the poor of the world. Honestly, it may be one of the reasons that a number of Americans find him such a challenge.

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