Lord Have Mercy- Live at the Steeple
lord have mercy
“Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion, blot out my offense.” Ps. 51:1
As a ten year old, I was rockin' it in the holiness department. I was a senior alter server at my parish, I attended a weekly prayer meeting for boys, I thought God was calling me to be a priest, and I went (albeit unwillingly) to Mass every Tuesday night with my family. But it was all a house of cards that came crashing down at one of those Tuesday Masses.
My brothers were serving, so there was no space for me on the altar. In my boredom at some point during the homily, I discovered that the pews were made of a relatively soft wood…perfect for carving. I resisted at first, but by minute nine of the preaching with no signs of an impending ending, I dug my thumbnail into the dark finish of the pew. Moments later, I was proud of the project I had completed: my name etched into the top rail of the pew in large letters.
Well, my mom has many gifts and assets, two of which are large glasses for seeing and strong hands for spanking. It hadn’t occurred to me before she saw it that A) she would see it (since it was huge and in plain sight), or B) that she would know who did it (since it was not my brother’s name, but my own). To make matters worse, we were sitting in the second pew, which is the unofficial front pew in a Catholic church. Shivers went down my spine as she mouthed to me over my sisters, “You are in deep trouble when this is over”.
I was in agony for the rest of Mass with nothing but my crimes to contemplate, staring me in the face in giant wooden letters – “G R E G”. What will she do? Will I go to prison? Will I ever be able to go back to the way things were before my crime? Why did this seem like such a perfect idea only a minute ago?!
At the end of Mass, to my surprise and my horror, she didn’t exact the usual just and corporal punishment for misbehaving in Mass. Instead, she led me to the sacristy to meet face-to-face with Fr. Jonathan where I was ordered to tell him what I had done. My words were shaky as I explained and waited for his reaction. Again to my surprise, instead of an angry lecture, he asked a simple and sincere question: why did you do it? I could see that he was hurt that I, a trusted and faithful alter server and regular communicant, would do such a thing in the middle of Mass. I couldn’t hold the tears back anymore, and I didn’t have any good answers for him. Instead, all I could do through choked sobs was to say, “I’m sorry, I don’t know why I did it, but I’m really sorry.” I simultaneously threw myself at him and wrapped my arms around him, weeping even more bitterly.
After peeling me off of his vestments, Father took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Greg, what you did wasn’t a good decision, and it will need to be fixed. But you are good, and I forgive you.”
To ten year old me, this was the proclamation of liberty to captives, this was the depths of mercy being poured out for me when my name was my sin. It’s a funny story, but the reality of the mercy Fr. Jonathan showed to me was profoundly reflective of the mercy of God the Father who waits always to forgive and to give mercy even before we ask.
The first words of the Psalmist in Ps. 51 are “Have mercy on me, God, in your goodness; in your abundant compassion, blot out my offense.” This is the cry of every heart. We are sinners, our sins have real effects, but our God, in his goodness, has mercy, heals, and forgives us.
Here’s the catch…we need to ask him for it. Perhaps the only thing that puts distance between us and the mercy of the Father is our own unwillingness to approach in humility, to admit that we’ve done wrong, and to ask for or even weep for mercy. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we still have a pride that prevents us from admitting our brokenness to anyone, even ourselves. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we think our sin is our name, that it is who we are, and there’s no way we can be forgiven or shown mercy. Maybe we avoid that conversation because we believe that justice is the only proper response to any crime. Maybe we avoid it for another reason.
This is the truth that we all too often forget – God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. God loves us, he knows us, he desires to be with us, he desires for us to be reconciled with him. He didn’t send us his Son, our Savior Jesus, just to save some of us, just to forgive some sins, just to set some free. He sent his Son because he wants to be with us. All of us. He saves us because he loves us.
Are we willing to accept this love? To ask for his mercy? To throw our arms around him and beg when we know we deserve nothing? To let him make all things new in us?
It was less than a week after that Tuesday Mass that I found myself in the Church again, my mom had made an appointment for me to go to confession to Fr. Jonathan. After I confessed my sins, including the one he already knew about, he reached under his chair and pulled out a bottle of brown varnish and a rag. He told me that my penance was to polish all the pews in the church.
As I began working, he came out of the confessional with another bottle of varnish and a rag, and he began working with me, polishing every pew, telling me stories, jokes, and interesting facts about the Faith. By the time we reached that second pew with my name on it, everything had been restored, I knew his mercy was real, and that I had been forgiven.
May we all receive the invitation to experience the real mercy of the perfect Father through the gift of his Son, Jesus.
- Written by Greg Boudreaux
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