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Mercy Not Sacrifice

March 31, 2016 by  
Filed under Liz Estler, Mercy

Mercy Not Sacrifice


EasterLilyCrossBostonPublicLibraryYellowBackground1Easter! The Resurrection of the Lord! What a glorious and joyous season. We have fasted, given alms and prayed. We have done what the Church called us to, in imitation of the Lord, in order to follow more closely in His footsteps. All this is good. But, now what?

I can’t help wondering, especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy—and I do not exclude myself from this—how much we have learned about mercy in our Lenten call to conversion, to metanoia, to turning around and turning toward the Lord.

Have we taken on penance and sacrifice just because that’s our Catholic Lenten practice? Or, did our hearts really enter into Lent intending that our deeper Lenten walk with the Lord would bring us closer to Him, and to one and other for the sake of His Kingdom?

I wonder.

MihalyMunkacsyHeadOfAPhariseeWhat are prayer, fasting and almsgiving? If they are merely a checklist, punch list or bucket list, something to get through and stop afterward, something we did so as not to appear out of step, something with which others could congratulate us with, or we could congratulate ourselves with, I submit that our mercy does not exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (cf Matthew 5:20).

Our Lord calls us to surpass their meager offering with some very stern words. If the way we offer mercy isn’t better than this, if it is simply pro forma, He Himself says, “…[we] shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That’s a pretty sobering statement. And, Christ instructs us to learn the meaning of the words “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (cf Matthew 9:13).

So, what is an offering of mercy that’s better than that of the scribes and Pharisees? It is mercy that is forgetful of self, an extra-eager joyful and tender mercy that we should desire, without selfish restraint, to lavish on others, just as God has lavished on us!

An extra mercy. Our Blessed Savior both taught and exemplified this. He said, “…When someone strikes you on EnriqueSimonetCabezaDeJesus[your] cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles” (Matthew 5:39-42). This is what we hear in Isaiah 50:6 about the Suffering Servant: “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard.” Having just observed the Holy Triduum, we are reminded of all that our Lord Jesus, in His great and unfathomable mercy, did for us while we were still sinners: how He indeed went the extra mile, and more than that for us, for our salvation, and as an example for us that, as He has done, we are also to do.

An eager mercy. It is mercy which imitates Jesus who eagerly desired to eat the Passover meal with His disciples (cf Luke 22:5), wherein when He instituted the Eucharist, he handed over His Body and Blood to His Disciples, in anticipation of His own Paschal sacrifice. And, He did so, with a deep longing, looking forward to what He was about to do for all mankind and saying to Judas, “What you are going to do, do it quickly” (John 13:27). It’s as if Christ were saying—Let’s get this show on the road!” And, it’s not unlike when Mary went in haste to help her cousin Elizabeth who was expecting St. John the Baptist (cf Luke 1:39). Mercy does not wait!

A joyful mercy. Just as he was eager to hand Himself over to His disciples, and to the world, Jesus did so “for the sake of the joy that lay before Him [and He] endured the cross” (cf Hebrews 12:2).   In other words, it was and is a mercy that is joyful. How difficult and excruciating the cross was for Him. How sad, and yet, how joyful it was for Him, knowing He was doing the Father’s will, the food which sustained Him, His heritage, and ours, forever. In fact, this is why He came: that His own joy, that joy that He had in winning our salvation, might be in us, and our joy might be complete (cf John 15:11). And, this is the kind of joyful mercy we are also to have: the mercy that finds it’s joy in doing the will of God because it is God’s will.

ProdigalSonDieRuckkehrDesVerlorenenSohnesMengelbergA tender mercy. Even if our mercy is extra-eager and joyful, it does not surpass that of above the narcissistic offering of the scribes and Pharisees if it is not also tender. Christ never forced Himself on anyone, nor does He do so now. Rather, He counsels and invites, He teaches and inspires, He gives us His example to follow, sometimes He also cajoles, but at all times, He respects the dignity and freedom of every human being to freely choose God. This is “the tender mercy of our God” which Zechariah spoke of in the temple (cf Luke 1:78). This is the type of compassion, or mercy, which God has for the faithful, just like a father has for his children (cf Psalm 103:13), for He knows our weakness and how we were formed. Our mercy must be tender like His.

Supernatural mercy. To be sure, extra-eager joyful and tender mercy is a kind of supernatural mercy that allows us to ascend to the heart of God in our self-giving to others. It is not something that we generate ourselves…but we can take steps toward if we will daily give ourselves to Him and to others. When we do this, as we are on our way, the Lord readily steps in to effect the cure and help us in our journey. May He fill us with His superabundant mercy, now and during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and in the years to come.

May you and I learn the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”


Art: Modification of Easter Lily Cross, Olive E. Whitney, 1861-1897, PD-US published before January 1, 1923; Head of a Pharisee, Mihaly Munkacsy, 1881, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; Cabeza de Jesús (Head of Jesus), Enrique Simonet, 1890-1891, PD-US author’s life plus 80 years or less; Die Rückkehr des verlorenen Sohns (The Return of the Prodigal Son), Otto Mengelberg, 1848, PD-US author’s life plus 70 years or less; all Wikimedia Commons.

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About Liz Estler

Editor, Liz holds a Master of Arts in Ministry Degree (St. John's Seminary, Brighton, Massachusetts), Liturgy Certificate (Boston Archdiocese), and a BS degree in Biology and Spanish (Nebraska Wesleyan University - Lincoln). She has served as hospital chaplain associate, sacristan, translator and in other parish ministries. She was a regular columnist for a military newspaper in Europe and has been published in a professional journal. She once waded in the Trevi Fountain!

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  • Fr William Barrocas

    The good Lord suggesting Mercy to Sacrifice does prioritise the most needed pro-neighbour reach-out human attitude and require it too from his followers.Such a call is most welcome.However there remains a. Begged question. How are Mercy and Last judgement to be related. May the Lord help us “SEE”

    • Patricia

      In his encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope), Pope Benedict XVI writes that the Final Judgment is “a setting for learning and practicing hope.” He says that “… the image of the Last Judgment is not primarily an image of terror but rather an image of hope; for us it may even be the decisive image of hope.” “Is it not also a frightening image?” he asks. And he answers: “I would say it is an image that evokes responsibility …44”

      The Lord constantly knocks at the door of our heart seeking to give us His mercy before we even ask for it. The Mercy of God seeks to forgive, to heal ,and to transform us into the likeness of Jesus, the Son of Man, who will come to judge the living and the dead.

      But Mercy does not absolve us of responsibility for our sins, trespassing upon our human dignity. Mercy is not like the misguided love of parents who allow their children to be undisciplined.

      God is “rich in mercy” as St. Pope John Paul taught us so well in his encyclical on the Mercy of God: “… The willingness to forgive, which is inextricably bound up with merciful love, ‘does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice … In no passage of the Gospel does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean indulgence toward evil, toward scandal, toward injury or insult”

      Paraphrased from :

      • Lynn Loring

        So thankful for this Divine Mercy Sunday and yes…this we are told by Jesus, through St. Faustina’s diary that confession, receiving Holy Communion, and the usual conditions for an indulgence, pays all debts! Yes, all! It takes care of ALL temporal and spiritual punishment due us! This is so beautiful and needs to be announced everywhere! There is no other indulgence like it. Also, the requirement of no attachment to sin is not given as a requirement! So, we can be healed of all attachments! This is a great year and this opportunity says St. John Paul ll is akin to baptism (paraphrased, he didn’t say akin, but yes…baptism comparison)

        • LizEst

          Lynn — Yes, the indulgence is a wonderful thing. However, you are mistaken about the requirement regarding detachment from sin. In fact, a complete detachment from sin, even venial sin, is required. Please read this excerpt from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy at this link :
          “Three conditions for the plenary indulgence
          And so the Supreme Pontiff, motivated by an ardent desire to foster in Christians this devotion to Divine Mercy as much as possible in the hope of offering great spiritual fruit to the faithful, in the Audience granted on 13 June 2002, to those Responsible for the Apostolic Penitentiary, granted the following Indulgences: a plenary indulgence, granted under the usual conditions (sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and prayer for the intentions of Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on the Second Sunday of Easter or Divine Mercy Sunday, in any church or chapel, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, take part in the prayers and devotions held in honor of Divine Mercy, or who, in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament exposed or reserved in the tabernacle, recite the Our Father and the Creed, adding a devout prayer to the merciful Lord Jesus (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!”);
          A partial indulgence, granted to the faithful who, at least with a contrite heart, pray to the merciful Lord Jesus a legitimately approved invocation.”

          Here is another link:

          These are the Church’s rules regarding indulgences. We trust this will help you and others. Blessed, holy and happy Eastertide to you and yours!

          • Lynn Loring

            Thanks! So, attachment to sin…does this mean addiction to nicotine? Can you be addicted, but hate it, begging grace to over come? Thanks

          • LizEst

            Yes, addiction to nicotine is habitual sin. When we sin, we choose to sin. And, the way we get into habitual sin is that, most often, we get into it little by little, saying yes to it until we find it very, very hard to stop. It’s that way with drinking, gambling, pornography, gluttony, drugs, smoking, internet addiction, etc. If one sins once in any of these areas, that is not an attachment to the sin. But, if a person keeps doing some sin over and over again, that is addiction, and that is an attachment. Those are the facts about it.

            Where there is addiction, and one hates it, there may or may not be less culpability for it, for various reasons such as the chemical component (within the brain and/or outside of it) involved in the addiction, but there is still attachment to sin because that person keeps going back to that sin. Yes, we need grace to overcome sin. We also need to cooperate with the grace given to us, in order to stop sinning. This should not stop us from seeking an indulgence. Even though we may not meet the guidelines for a plenary indulgence, we may still be able to get the partial indulgence. And, the grace from that–and our cooperation with it–may help us detach from addiction.

          • Lynn Loring

            This is most beautiful and everyone deserves to read it!


          • Lynn Loring

            This is very important and wonderfully clarifies my previous statement. All should have this knowledge/understanding and so can prayerfully choose to honor God’s mercy in this way if they choose.

  • Patricia

    Perhaps He means that it is not the actual sacrifice, but rather its meaning – the covenant that the sacrifice sealed. Jesus is the Lamb of God, the final and bloodless sacrifice. As our Savior, He is the visible face of the invisible Divine Mercy of the Father. If we enter into this covenant with God as His adopted children and brothers and sisters in Christ, we will truly accept this gift of love and mercy, underserving though we are. Then by our total conversion and turning away from sin and our transformation into our fullness in the image of Christ, mercy will live and operate in our soul as described in today’s posting.

    • Mary Dee Goettsche

      I can’t imagine what you might mean by “bloodless sacrifice”, since our Lord Jesus Christ shed his blood for mankind. Did I misunderstand what you are saying?

  • MaryofSharon

    This was a give of Divine Providence to me, Liz. I went to confession today, and my penance was to meditate on Matthew 9:9-13. When I got to verse 13, I found myself puzzled, wondering what that verse meant. Then I came home and found your post. Deo gratias!

    • LizEst

      Thank you for sharing, MaryofSharon. I am happy it has helped you. God does work in marvelous ways. He was the inspiration for this! So, to Him belongs the glory…now and forever. Blessed Eastertide to you and yours!

  • Mike

    I just found this wondrrful site. I have been thinking about Indulgences much lately, especially in this year of mercy. To offer them for others. But what has really struck me is the beauty of them. The “Rules” for indulgences are not rules at all. To be forhiven of sin, to be nourished by the Holy Eucharist, to offer, acknowledge and worship the sacrifice of Jesus in Holy Mass, to pray for others. Even if offering an indulgence for others the tremendous gifts Jesus bestows. Its not rules, its Mercy. It just has impacted me in a way hard to put into words

    • LizEst

      Hi Mike – We’re so pleased you found us! To God be the glory!

      The plenary indulgence can be applied to someone in purgatory, or for oneself but cannot be offered for someone people living on earth. I am copying the normal conditions for receiving a plenary indulgence below in order that all may know. This is from the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy website here:

      It is necessary that the faithful be in the state of grace at least at the time the indulgenced work is completed.

      A plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day. In order to obtain it, the faithful must [all 5 conditions must be met]:
      *in addition to being in the state of grace:
      *have the interior disposition of complete detachment from sin, even venial sin;
      *have sacramentally confessed their sins;
      *receive the Holy Eucharist (it is certainly better to receive it while participating in Holy Mass, but for the indulgence only Holy Communion is required); and
      * pray for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff.

      It is appropriate, but not necessary, that the sacramental Confession and especially Holy Communion and the prayer for the Pope’s intentions take place on the same day that the indulgenced work is performed; but it is sufficient that these sacred rites and prayers be carried out within several days (about 20) before or after the indulgenced act. Prayer for the Pope’s intentions is left to the choice of the faithful, but an Our Father and a Hail Mary are suggested. One sacramental Confession suffices for several plenary indulgences, but a separate Holy Communion and a separate prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions are required for each plenary indulgence.

      For the sake of those legitimately impeded, confessors can commute both the work prescribed and the conditions required (except, obviously, detachment from even venial sin).

      Indulgences can always be applied either to oneself or to the souls of the deceased, but they cannot be applied to other persons living on earth.

      God bless you, Mike…and Blessed Eastertide to you and yours!

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