May 3, 2011

Divine Mercy and habitare secum

The Christian life of prayer is rooted in the mercy of God.  There are such dark places in our lives, only with the mercy of the Lord can we face ourselves and deal with the reality of who we really are.   Living with yourself, this ideal began to be articulated around the time of St. Benedict, although it was a lived part of Christian spirituality from the very beginning.  It means not only confessing sin and doing penance for the evil that one has done or entertained, not only accepting one's weaknesses and limitations before God, but most especially habitare secum means being able to enter into the depths of one's own heart to humbly listen to the Lord who waits for us there.   

Christian prayer deals with the reality of the human heart.  The heart is the spring from which flows all that is good and evil about ourselves.   It is broken and wounded, laden with many sorrows, and yet still capable of finding joy in what is good.  It is an inner sanctuary where God speaks to us.  People who do not want to deal with themselves or deal with God do not like to go there.  They remain unfamiliar to themselves and unaware of what is driving them in life.   Yet, when God calls us to Himself and we begin to yearn to be with Him, entering into our hearts, accepting what is there and offering to the Lord is the best way to find Him.  

The reason why has to do with the theme of mercy Pope Benedict singled out in his homily at Sunday's beatification of John Paul II - mercy is the limit of evil.  John Paul II loved the theme of Divine Mercy - it was the mercy of God that helped him deal with the cruel brutality of World War II which was followed by decades of Soviet oppression.  John Paul was convinced that Divine Mercy is the limit of evil because the more he trusted in Jesus, the more mercy triumphed over evil.  Contemplating the face of Christ and clinging to the mercy of God was the secret not only of dealling with himself but also being merciful to others, even those who tried to kill him.  His confidence in Divine Mercy made John Paul II a compelling advocate for the dignity of the human person - it is why people were drawn to him all over the world.  They wanted to know the Mercy of God his life in Christ radiated.

Evil, the mystery of sin, dehumanizes - but Divine Mercy raises on high! Mercy is love that suffers the misery of another, the evil that afflicts someone's heart, so that the dignity of that person might be restored.   Christ embraced our misery on the Cross that we might know God's mercy.

How this applies to the heart is that the good and evil we find there are not co-equal dualistic principles.  Good has definitively triumphed over evil in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  When we turn to Him in faith, He gives us the power of his mercy and teaches us to realize the victory of good over evil in our lives.  He has already suffered our misery with us and is ever ready to meet us there - so that in Him all that is good, noble and true about us is rescued from the mystery of sin and raised up to new life.  

To learn to live with ourselves - this is to look at those places in our lives in which evil has a foothold and to offer these to God so that we can realize in ourselves how Divine Mercy is the limit of evil.  However deep the abyss of our misery - the abyss of mercy issuing forth form the wounds of Christ is inexhaustibly deeper.  The more we discover this limit to the evil in our own hearts, the more we can rejoice in the remarkable and astonishing presence of the Lord in our lives.  Rather than being driven by all kinds of brokenness we do not understand, we find ourselves able to live like St. Benedict, Bl. John Paul II and the other great saints - who through such interior deliberation discovered the secret of living with themselves before the face of God - habitare secum - is seeking the Mercy of the Lord.


  1. Great post. Thank you for your thoughts on John Paul II and Divine Mercy. I needed that.

  2. Applicable insights into Divine Mercy in a well crafted post. May God pour out more graces upon you and your family.

  3. I have a difficult time grasping how "mercy" contains "evil".

    It's like saying "baseball" contains "evil".

    Mercy is a noun, but how does it contain "evil"?

    I like praying the Divine Mercy chaplet, but I have great difficulty in understanding a lot of the theology behind it, even the most common sense explanations confound me.

    How do you explain to someone without a background in Theology or Scripture, that "mercy" can limit "evil"?

    Signed, confused.

  4. Dear Tito - Thank you for your good question. These insights are difficult to grasp - so be patient with yourself and this poor explanation.

    I do not think the baseball is a useful analogy - mercy is not the hide of a ball or a covering over something that is bad. God's mercy does not contain evil in a material way or change its appearance. Instead, Mercy transforms even what are merely material privations not to mention the even more difficult forms spiritual misery into encounters with God.

    Mercy is more like a good rain which limits the aridity of the desert or like the sun which limits the cold darkness of winter.

    God's mercy is the greatest of God's attributes - but each attribute is the same as His nature, infinite. Evil is not infinite - it is only permitted in God's loving plan for a limited time and to a limited extent - according to his hidden purposes. The power of his love infinitely surpasses the power of evil so that where our misery meet God, where our limitedness meets his limitlessness - we access unimaginable possibilities in the Lord. Saying yes to these possibilities in our lives by faith, this is the power of the Cross unleashed in us - a power against which evil is powerless, against which it has reached its limit.

  5. "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner". This is the simple prayer the Orthodox monks of Athos, Greece repeat all day and some pray it in their sleep.

  6. Magnificent post