Recently God has inspired me, through a variety of means to reflect on the action His merciful providence in my life. I have made many mistakes in my life. I have done and said things that have hurt my communion with others and with God. I have at times, with varying degrees of my will, chosen to love other things more than my Father whom I should love above all things. In these times, I have failed to recognize the grace being poured upon me like a waterfall in every moment and instead chosen to remain in the mire and muck of sin. I have not lived up to my baptismal commitments. I have loved the created more than the Creator. I chose some of my sins willfully, others less willingly, but regardless all were evil. They were all instances where I preferred a lesser good in place of the greater good.
In today’s Office of Readings, Paul tells his story to the Galatians, desiring by such a telling to help them understand the great plan of God for their lives. Throughout his Letter to the Galatians, Paul exhorts his audience to learn to live in the freedom of God, which comes through Jesus Christ. In short, Paul is encouraging those to whom he has preached the Gospel and to accept and live in their identities as beloved children of God. He uses his own story as an illustration of the effect that God’s grace is to have on the lives and attitudes of the Galatian Christians. St. Paul is all too familiar with sin and its impacts. Paul was willfully complicit in the persecution and murder of the Christian people. In his words:
“You [Galatians] have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.”
Thus, we clearly see that Paul was a sinful man, who choose other goods (zeal for tradition, pride of place, and exterior holiness) in place of the fulfillment of the Torah. Without making a too severe judgment on the Apostle, we might speculate that Paul murdered and persecuted because he thought that the Torah required him to perform and because these actions made him appear more praiseworthy in front of his contemporaries. In taking these objectively morally wrong actions, his malformed conscience at the time led him to believe that what he was doing was even good.
What happens next is staggering and shocking; Paul undergoes an a complete and utter transformation of his heart, mind, and conscience. As St. Luke narrates in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul encounters the Lord on the road to Damascus, who asks him “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” This encounter physically blinds Paul, but his eyes of grace begin to be opened. Later, when he receives the preaching of the Gospel from Ananias, his physical blindness is removed as his eyes are opened to the reality of the New Law of Christ which is grace. He immediately gets up and is baptized and then goes away at once to begin to preach the Gospel.
Returning to Letter to the Galatians, we can see that Paul is clear in that the change which overcame him was neither of his own making nor of human institution but has occurred through the mercy of God:
“But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
One of the great things that we see in this passage is that Paul can see that even though God knew that he would sin, and be far from Him on account of these sins, Paul never sees himself as abandoned by God. On the contrary, Paul articulates his absolute trust in God’s providential design, in which God called him before his birth, despite God’s own foreknowledge of sin. Paul has an implicit understanding here that his (or our) sins do not limit the merciful and grace-filled providence of God. Moreover, he clearly understands that it is God who always has the initiative in reconciling the sinner to himself.
God constantly and consistently gives us, like Paul, the grace we need to live in the freedom for which “Christ has set us free.” In so doing, we are made able to “stand firm, …and … not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” which sin imposes upon us. Paul is trying to get the Galatians to understand the greatness of the gift of God. Jesus does the same thing with the woman at the well in John 4.
We, like her, and like Paul, must come to know the “gift of God,” which is his loving mercy for us. It is precisely through in and through mercy that God calls us back to himself. Our God is so generous and loving that, “when faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.” Further, as the Pope points out, “Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” Mercy is the manifestation of God’s loving power in our lives. As St. Thomas Aquinas articulates “mercy is accounted as being proper to God…therein His omnipotence is declared to be chiefly manifested.” Practically, what this means, is that God is “a Father who never gives up until he has forgiven the wrong and overcome rejection with compassion and mercy.”
In my life as much as I have experienced the loving mercy and grace of the Father I know that there are areas of my heart that are still in need of the purifying power of God’s grace. I much too easily forget that the Father loved me before my sins, during my sins, after my sins, and will love me no matter what the future holds. In His permissive providence, He allows us to choose freely to love Him or not, but he does not permit us to determine whether He loves us. As St. Augustine points out God is “so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil,” even though He never wills evil.
In His great mercy, He showers down free, unmerited, grace for our salvation at every moment of our lives, sometimes, perhaps often even using the darkest corners, and weakest moments as the moments when He shows His greatest power. As St. Paul reminds us, God’s “grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” All we have to do is look up, with our souls crying out “Abba Father!,” and we shall allow this mercy to flow freely over us. Through it, He will heal us.
I challenge each one of us to contemplate the mercy of the Father in our own lives. We need to remind ourselves of the mercy of God as often as we can. Doing so is an essential task for a Christian. In the words of Pope Francis:
“We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Washington, DC: National Council of Churches of Christ, 1993), Ga 1:13–14.
 Acts 9:4
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Washington, DC: National Council of Churches of Christ, 1993), Ga 1:15–17.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Washington, DC: National Council of Churches of Christ, 1993), Ga 5:1.
 Pope Francis. Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (3)
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.). I.30.4
 Pope Francis. Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (9)
 Augustine of Hippo, “The Enchiridion,” in St. Augustin: On the Holy Trinity, Doctrinal Treatises, Moral Treatises, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 3, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 240.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Washington, DC: National Council of Churches of Christ, 1993), 2 Co 12:9.
 Pope Francis. Misericordiae Vultus: Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. (2)