Mercy: Much More than Forgiveness

September 28, 2016

By Sister Catherine Kanick

Sister Catherine Kanick

Sister Catherine Kanick

Does Mercy only mean forgiveness? When Pope Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy, I noticed throughout our diocese a greater emphasis on confession, penance and reconciliation, and more opportunities to do so.

It reminded me of my early years when weekly confession was a must, even as my friends and I “made up” sins to have something to say to the priest! We were reminded regularly of our need to always be aware that we are sinners, with rarely the same emphasis on our goodness.

My thought on our Pope’s proclamation was “are we reverting back to that old mind set?”

This year has been an opportunity for me to look back on my own life’s history from those early years to how my spiritual life today has taken different shape through experiencing God beyond limiting words and understanding.  

Most of my youth was spent fraught with fear and anxiety always believing I was never quite good enough, especially in the eyes of our God. At age 14 I discovered alcohol and thought it was a panacea for all my problems and feelings. I never enjoyed the taste of alcohol, only the way it made me feel—free.

After 25 years filled with loss—physically, emotionally and spiritually—years of broken relationships and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, I heard my own voice calling out the only prayer I had spoken in years, “God, where are you?”

Over the next 40 years, my life has been flooded with God’s mercy in many forms: people who continue to be my friends today; recovery from alcoholism that is ongoing and filled with surprises; a radical change in personality and belief system where I see God with a new face, that of freedom.

My humanness is far less threatening than ever before, because God’s mercy is inclusive of so much more than just being forgiven:

“Come to me when you are weary.” —Come as you are, God’s hospitality
“I call you by name and you are mine.” —God’s love
“Look, I make all things new.” —God’s forgiveness
“You are precious in my eyes.” —God’s longing.
“Could a mother forget her child?” —God’s forever embrace

I came to realize that to experience mercy and God in those fullness of moments is a holy prompt to give back what has been freely given. In 1982, after spending time looking for something “more” to fill my heart, I requested entrance into the Sisters of Mercy and was accepted. More surprises unfolded for me.

I left my dental hygiene profession and became a certified substance abuse counselor working in the field for nine years, an extraordinary opportunity to “give back.” Today, my ministry is one of directing retreats for men and women in 12-Step recovery programs, and I receive far more than I ever put out.

If there is one powerful gift we all have to give in thanksgiving it is our sacred story— perhaps, like mine, one that is filled with shame and regret, but one that easily touches the hurting heart of another. We are far more alike when sharing our pain and sorrow than at any other time. In sharing our stories of healing we become the hope and promise of all God’s desires for each of us—the fullness of life that is offered when we give our lives and our self-will to the God’s protection and care.

Thank goodness God does not seek perfection from us but simply asks that we allow ourselves to be loved.

I offer my prayer of thanksgiving:

Creator God, in the stillness of you and me
I offer myself just as I am.
Turn my fear into daring, my resistance into trust.
Sweep me up into your care and love.
Teach my heart emptiness that you may fill me.
Teach my soul longing that we may become as one.
Overwhelm me with the freedom of letting go.
Let me sing my “YES” in a spirit of thanksgiving. Amen.

Sister Catherine Kanick currently living in Rochester, New York. She is a certified substance abuse counselor both in New York State and Florida. She directs retreats and workshops in parishes and retreat centers on the East Coast and most often directs retreats for men and women in 12-step recovery programs.

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  1. Sheila Stevenson, RSM

    Thanks for your honest sharing of the Mercy of God in your life. Always grateful for you.

  2. Fran McManus, RSM

    Thank you, Catherine, for the candid and brave sharing. That storying is, indeed, a mercy. Of late I have come to appreciate that confession truly reconciles one, not just to God and the community, but to oneself, connecting all the history of brokenness and grace we each carry with God who so constant you urges us forward.

  3. Roseann Hayek

    Sister Catherine, THANK YOU for this great article!!! It speaks to my heart. God bless you!!

  4. Suzanne Ryder

    I feel very touched by this article. The turn-around regarding our spiritual attitude, of which Catherine speaks is so important for our adult selves. I am working presently on the Book of Jonah, for a scripture reflection. I was at a day given by Denis McBride on the call of Jonah. He told us that it the only book Pope Francis asked us to read when he declared this jubilee year of Mercy. Such drama, as Jonah wrestles with the sheer wonder of God’s mercy for all of us, whatever our behaviour. May this article help in this process of self-acceptance as the Holy One is constantly revealed.

  5. Sister Natalie

    Thank you for sharing and thus I am sure helping others on the journey.

  6. Mary Ann Schimscheiner, RSM

    Dear Catherine

    Thank you so much for your honest and open spirit. It lifts us all.

  7. Dorothy Miller, RSM

    Sr. Catherine, Thanks so much for your beautiful story! I sooo enjoyed meeting with you during our Assembly recently! You are in my prayers! In Mercy!

  8. Sr. Margaret Park

    Thank you for your simplicity in your honest telling, for your courage in writing your wonderful story of healing within God’s love, and for the hand you give to others struggling to stand. I know that you lifted me up at a time of great pain in my life. That was and still is a deep blessing to me. Thanks for being willing to be the Face of Christ to others…

  9. Lennie Taylor

    Dear Sister Kay, I recently heard and talked with you at a women’s retreat at Matt Talbott in Niag. Falls, Can. – you suggested a therapy letter and it was a God given help. I tried to email a private letter, but the address I had did not work and was bounced back, so would appreciate having your proper one if able, as you said you would like to hear from me. Mine is privately below. Thank you so much for the inspiration you gave me. God bless you and your wisdom..