The following comes from Fr. Dwight Longenecker:
I was doing some research on the self help industry and listened to some tapes by a guy who said his recipe for self esteem was to look in the mirror and repeat like a mantra, “I like myself, I like myself, I like myself.” I thought if he needed that much convincing then building self esteem was probably a lost cause.
To stand things on their head the fact of the matter is that saying “Have mercy on me a sinner.” Is the best way to build true self esteem. It’s shallow but fashionable to complain about “Catholic guilt” and moan and groan about how the Catholic Church expects everybody to grovel in the mud and says, “I am a miserable worm and no man.”
This is of course, a lie from the pit. It is an abuse and a misunderstanding of the Catholic concept of both sin and mercy.
The Book of Romans defines sin saying, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” That’s what sin is. It’s simple. It is to fall short of God’s glory. God’s glory is what we were created for. St Irenaeus says, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” Therefore to be a sinner is to be less than fully alive. To say, “I am a sinner” is simply to admit that we have missed the mark. We’re a work in progress. We’re still climbing the mountain. We’re not there yet.
This brings huge self esteem because it is a dose of reality. It doesn’t mean we hang our heads and wallow in all the things we are ashamed of. It simply means we admit that we are not yet perfect. We need help. We are created good in God’s image, but we are wounded and that wound needs healing. This is real self esteem and this is real humility for humility also is reality. It is being honest about ourselves and our destiny.
So to say, “I am a Sinner” is actually a liberating and cheerful saying. Yep! It’s true! I’m a sinner. It’s a fact. So are you. So are we all. The next fact is that I can’t be different on my own. I need help. I need the Mercy.
When we say “have mercy” we think of being caught at something, hauled before the judge and pleading for a shorter sentence. We think “Have Mercy!” means “Let me off the hook. Let up. Take it easy!” Well maybe, but there’s more to it than that. The Mercy is simply God’s radiating love. Bl. Pope John Paul says “Mercy is Love’s second name”
Therefore “Have Mercy” means “Give me the Love. Give me the Divine Love. Give me the radiance of your goodness and grace dear God!” God’s mercy is overflowing like his love. It is not so much that he gives mercy and love, but as St John says, “God IS Love.” God radiates love and mercy as the sun radiates heat and light.
This is the message of mercy that is most needed by humanity today. A message that God’s love and power are available. They are there and we only need to ask. In fact, the Scriptures and the liturgy overflow with reference to the Mercy and give us the opportunity to ask for the Mercy. Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison, Kyrie Eleison. Lord Have Mercy. The Jesus prayer of the Eastern Church is one continuous request for the Mercy. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on Me a Sinner.”
But there’s a rub.
Not only do we need to ask, but we need to obey. The greatest reason why we do not experience the mercy is because we do not obey what the Merciful One has told us to do. It is only in living by faith and obedience that we walk in the light and know the light and experience the Mercy. If you live your own way in disobedience to God, then you will not experience the mercy.
This is not because God is with holding the Mercy as some kind of punishment, but because the experience of the Mercy is linked intrinsically to the obedience of the Mercy. You know the Mercy as you obey the Mercy just as you gain nutrition from eating. The two are linked together. You cannot have one without the other.
Why do you not experience the Mercy? Why do you not know the joy of the Mercy fully? Because there is something in your life you will not or cannot give up. There is something in your life that you will not or cannot do–even though you know you should.
We’ve come full circle. Who have I met in life that has shown me the most amazing confidence, self esteem, humility and power in the world? The saints. I’ve met saints and they never worry about self esteem because their personalities are fused and infused with the Divine Mercy. On the other hand, the people I’ve met with the lowest self esteem are those who are ignoring or disobeying the Divine Mercy.
They might have the kind of fake self esteem (kind of like a fake sun tan or a facelift) the guy talking to the mirror had, but beneath that they loathe themselves.