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Psychological Healing
in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

Why do we say, Kýrie, eléison—“Lord, have mercy”? Doesn’t this mean that God will overlook our sins?

Outline of the Answer
• “Overlooking” Sins
• Salvation is a Life-long Battle
• A Hollow Shell Covering Inner Fear
• Mercy: Its Theological Meaning
• Refusing Mercy
• Contrition and Adoration
• A Genuine Plea for Mercy
• Comfort from the Book of Wisdom

Sod is always pouring down His love upon everyone; the holy and the wicked all receive freely of His love. God’s mercy, though, is a different matter. God’s mercy releases us from severe judgment and condemnation even though we might deserve it, but God gives His mercy only to those who ask for it with humble and contrite hearts.

Nevertheless, some people believe that their claiming to accept Jesus as their Savior guarantees their entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven. Because of this, they also believe that all of their sins, while an offense to God, have already been forgiven in Jesus while He was on the Cross. Consequently, they conceptualize all this as a matter of God “overlooking” their sins.

Salvation is a Life-long Battle

Yet the truth is that God does not “overlook” our sins as a matter of course.

Through His death on the Cross, Christ paid for our redemption. Redemption (sometimes called justification) is God’s gift to us. It’s a gift completely unmerited on our part. It’s a gift that flows from God’s love for His creation. It’s a gift that pays the mystical penalty for our Original Sin. This penalty, which no person by his or her own efforts can ever pay, and which even obedience to the sacred Jewish Law cannot erase, was paid through the sacrifice of Christ. It’s all the culmination of the great Promise that echoes through the prophets and the scriptures. As Saint Paul said, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Consequently, all souls have been redeemed by the mystical sacrifice of Christ, but every soul individually needs to accept that redemption by repenting its sins and living a holy lifestyle; this pursuit of a holy life can lead to the soul’s salvation from the eternal separation from God that results from a lack of repentance.

The salvation of any soul requires a profound, life-long personal battle against evil. That’s why Saint Paul tells us to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12b)—and to do this, we need to cry out to God for mercy.

In making this cry for mercy, we in effect say to God, “Lord, we have done nothing to merit the redemption you offer us, but we are willing to do the hard work to accept that gift. Look upon us with compassion as we, wretched sinners that we are, take up this struggle to accept and make good use of your gift.”

Yet when many of us say, “Lord, have mercy,” we are not really speaking from a place of profound heartfelt contrition, and we aren’t trembling at the battle before us; instead, we are thinking, “Lord, go easy on me.” The unspoken implication of this thought is that salvation shouldn’t be a lot of hard work. Thus, in thinking like this, we show ourselves to be too lazy, too arrogant, and too self-indulgent—too lukewarm—to be willing to surrender ourselves completely to divine love.

A Hollow Shell Covering Inner Fear

Psychologically, most of us are lazy and arrogant because, as a result of growing up in dysfunctional families that manipulate us into obedience to arbitrary authority through game-playing and emotional dishonesty, some dark part of us believes we are worthless and don’t deserve the purity of genuine love. We crave that purity, but we’re angry that we have to do the hard work to attain it, and the anger hardens our hearts. That proud, hard heart, however, is just a hollow shell covering up its inner fear.


What is it everyone fears? We’re all afraid that if we really change our lives and witness the truth, our families will reject us. We’re afraid that our husbands or wives will divorce us and we will lose a nice, comfortable life. We’re afraid that our co-workers and friends will criticize us. We’re afraid that our social prestige will suffer. We’re afraid that our careers will be threatened. In short, we’re afraid of what we might lose.


Therefore, we look for any easy way. Like a convicted criminal, we cry out, “Mercy!” hoping to get off easy without losing anything.

This is because, in its judicial sense, mercy means to withhold some—or all—of the punishment demanded by justice, if the guilty person shows sorrow for his or her behavior. Of course, a guilty person can make a fine show of sorrow to please the court, all the while having no real sorrow. That’s the psychological flaw in social justice.

Mercy: Its Theological Meaning

In its theological implications, mercy transcends psychological deception. For example, we can have mercy on others by showing kindness to them simply in the hope that they might overcome their fear and enter into real sorrow for their sins. This follows from the compassionate example of mercy given by Christ Himself who sat with sinners, not to wink at their sins, but to call them to repentance. 


Read an excerpt from the writings of Saint Catherine of Genoa
about God’s mercy, love, and patience

This understanding of the theological meaning of mercy points to the fact that God is always offering His mercy to us, despite our arrogance. All we have to do is accept His mercy, despite our fears. In this transaction of divine mercy, there is no place for deception.


I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart. I use punishment when they themselves force me to do so; my hand is reluctant to take hold of the sword of Justice. Before the Day of Justice I am sending the Day of Mercy. . . .

I cannot punish even the greatest sinner if he makes an appeal to My compassion, but on the contrary, I justify him in My unfathomable and inscrutable mercy. . . .

Tell sinners that no one shall escape My hand; if they run away from My Merciful Heart, they will fall into My Just Hands.


—told to Saint Faustina by Jesus,
Diary (1588, 1146, 1728)

Refusing Mercy

The real problem, then, is that in our proud, hardened hearts we refuse to accept the mercy so graciously offered to us. In trying to defend our self-esteem from the emotional wounds of family dysfunction, we try to convince ourselves that we are self-sufficient, and we end up believing that begging for mercy is just another game—like all family games—that will lead to more humiliation.

Moreover, like Jonah, we often begrudge God’s gift of mercy to others.

To make seemingly well-meaning yet self-deceived claims, as many do today—saying that hell does not exist, and that sin is an outdated concept irrelevant to today’s world, and that everyone will go to heaven “because God loves us”—only serves as a psychological defense against the terror of human brokenness. Like all heresies, such claims injure others because they deny to others the truth that they need in order to repent their sins and turn to divine mercy.


To trust in The Divine Mercy is to believe in the reality of sin and to tremble before the Divine Justice that punishes all unrepentant sin.

Moreover, to pray for mercy on yourself—and on others—means that you are making your contribution to facilitate a general sense of repentance that this world so desperately needs.


Contrition and Adoration

Therefore, to say, “Lord, have mercy” in full spiritual honesty means that you are begging God not to be easy on you but to give you the life experiences that will break you and humble you—not humiliate you—and crack open your hardened heart. Then, in that crack of contrition, maybe true love will begin to take root and grow, and spread and transform the hardness into life.


Read an excerpt from a sermon by Saint Augustine
about contrition

Furthermore, divine mercy does not stop there, with pure contrition—that is, when a soul sees and realizes the gravity of its sins. Even humble, repentant souls striving for holiness need to adore Christ’s mercy.


I desire that these souls distinguish themselves by boundless trust in My mercy. I myself will attend to the sanctification of such souls. I will provide them with everything they need to attain sanctity. The graces of My mercy are drawn by means of one vessel only, and that is—trust. The more a soul trusts, the more it will receive. Souls that trust boundlessly are a great comfort to Me, because I pour all the treasures of My graces into them. I rejoice that they ask for much, because it is My desire to give much, very much. On the other hand, I am sad when souls ask for little, when they narrow their hearts.


—told to Saint Faustina by Jesus,
Diary (1578)

True Christian life, therefore, is not just a matter of the initial repentance; it requires a constant struggle to provide a good return on the investment of graces that God makes in us (Matthew 25:14-30). We can do this only by detaching ourselves from the illusions of this world and trusting completely in God—adoring God’s mercy for our own good, and performing works of mercy for the good of others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

— Matthew 5:7

A Genuine Plea for Mercy

O LORD, I am weak and broken, surrounded on all sides by corruption and perversion. LORD have mercy on me: protect me from my enemies who would devour me, and guide me in the Way of Perfection. No matter what happens around me, whether it be attack or seduction, may my love for You protect me from falling into sin. May I live a holy life no matter what others do around me.

Comfort from the Book of Wisdom

From the book of Wisdom 11:20b-12:2, 11b-19
                  Concerning the mercy and patience of God

You have disposed all things by measure and number and weight, O Lord.
For with You great strength abides always;
   who can resist the might of Your arm?
Indeed, before You the whole universe is as a grain from a balance,
   or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
But You have mercy on all, because You can do all things;
   and You tolerate the sins of men that they may repent.
For You love all things that are
   and loathe nothing that You have made;
   for what You hated, You would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless You willed it;
   or be preserved, had it not been called forth by You?
But You spare all things, because they
   are Yours, O Lord and lover of souls,
   for Your imperishable spirit is in all things!
Therefore You rebuke offenders little by little,
   warn them, and remind them of the sins they are committing,
   that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in You, O Lord!
Neither out of fear for anyone
   did You grant amnesty for their sins.
For who can say to You, “What have You done?”
   or who can oppose Your decree?
Or when peoples perish, who can challenge You, their maker;
   or who can come into Your presence as vindicator of unjust men?
For neither is there any god besides You who have the care of all,
   that You need show You have not unjustly condemned;
Nor can any king or prince confront You on behalf of those You have punished.
But as You are just, You govern all things justly;
   You regard it as unworthy of Your power
   to punish one who has incurred no blame.
For Your might is the source of justice;
   Your mastery over all things makes You lenient to all.
For You show your might when the perfection of Your power is disbelieved;
   and in those who know You, You rebuke temerity.
But though You are master of might, You judge with clemency,
   and with much lenience You govern us;
   for power, whenever You will, attends You.
And You taught Your people, by these deeds,
   that those who are just must be kind;
And You gave Your people good ground for hope
   that You would permit repentance for their sins.


Who wrote this web page?


What the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:

2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.


Who wrote this web page?


Psychological Healing in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

by Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

A treasure of a resource for psychological and spiritual healing. Information gathered from my websites is now available at your fingertips in book form with a comprehensive index.
Psychological defenses help to protect us from emotional injury, but if you cling to the defense mechanisms that were created in your childhood and carry them on into adulthood—as most everyone does unconsciously—your quest for spiritual healing will be thwarted by overwhelming resentments and conflicts.
Still, God has been trying to show you that there is more to life than resentment and conflict, something so beautiful and desirable that only one thing can resist its pull: hate.
So now, and in every moment until you die, you will have a profound choice between your enslavement to old defenses and the beauty of God. That decision has to come from you. You will go where you desire.

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