(Jesus) heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Our Lord, quoting Hosea to the Pharisees had a very important message for them. This message is also important for us penitents. Our life of penance gives us many opportunities to offer sacrifice to God. However, this reading serves as a warning: if we are not first of all instruments of mercy all our penance is in vain. Further, the mercy we exercise must flow from charity, a charity that originates in the will of God who is love. If it doesn’t, then as Ecclesiastes tells us, all is vanity.
St. Alphonsus de Ligouri in his booklet “Uniformity with God’s Will”* has some very strong words about the way in which we offer our sacrifices to God.
“Mortification, meditation, receiving Holy Communion, acts of fraternal charity are all certainly pleasing to God, but only when they are in accordance with his will. When they do not accord with God’s will, he not only finds no pleasure in them, but he even rejects them utterly and punishes them.” (my emphasis)
This emphasizes how crucial obedience to God’s will is to the life of penance. How tragic it would be if we came to the end of a life of penance and the Lord rejected everything because we had lacked the one thing necessary—obedience.
There is no greater sacrifice than obedience. Our will is the only thing that is truly ours. That is what makes it the most valuable thing we can offer to God. Jesus was obedient unto death for our salvation and Mary’s obedience was the point on which salvation teetered while creation held its breath.
Our life of penance cannot please God outside of obedience. That is the whole point of a Rule – to train us in obedience so that we can be effective instruments of God’s mercy in the world. That is why obedience is one of the vows taken by religious. That is also why the enemy tries so hard to convince us that our happiness depends upon doing what we want when we want. I once heard it said that the theme song of hell is “I Did It My Way.”
The obedient soul becomes an instrument of God’s mercy, a conduit of his power, which is love in action. We see all that the saints accomplished and we marvel at it. Yet this is well within the reach of all of us if we but train ourselves in the virtue of obedience.
It makes sense. God has infinite power that he wants to share with us for the good of all. However, infinite power can be abused by creatures who are free to sin. So conformity to the will of God must come first. Dying to self. Voluntarily decreasing so that he may increase in us. God longs for this, the world needs it and the Rule can help us accomplish it.
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God is not interested in our sacrifices for their own sake. Unless they accomplish what God desires, they are meaningless, harmful even. No, our first sacrifice must be our own will. Embrace obedience, dear Brothers and Sisters. If you do the mercy of God will flow through you and you will see miracles.