God is such an amazing combination of seemingly contradictory characteristics (or ‘attributes’ as they are called in traditional theological language) that my poor limited human brain can’t take them all in at once. And this phrase from the Book of Common Prayer (1962 Canadian version; the 1662 English version is identical on this and most other points) is a good example of that:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep…
‘Almighty and most merciful Father’. There’s a contradictory bundle of attributes, for sure!
On the one hand, we affirm the power and majesty of God. He is ‘Almighty’; that is to say, nothing that his sovereign will plans is impossible for him to do. This is God the almighty Creator of all that exists, galaxies known and unknown, the Lord of all time who is himself outside of time, the one who is infinitely greater and stronger and wiser than we can even begin to imagine – the one who said to Moses ‘No one can see my face and live’ (Exodus 33:20).
On the other hand, we’re told that he is our ‘most merciful Father’. Not just a wise and just and capable Father, but a ‘most merciful Father’, one who forgives our sins, gives to us generously without stint, and is patient with our weaknesses and fears.
How can it be that the God who created black holes and red dwarves even knows that I exist, let alone being my ‘most merciful Father’? But it is true, and Jesus assures us of it. He teaches us to pray ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ – the same combination of attributes. Our Father, yes, but also our heavenly Father; close to us as a good father, and yet at the same time exalted far above us as the God and Creator of all.
Good stuff, very good stuff having to do with our heavenly Father, taught to us by His Son.
His Son is also quite the teacher as to our heavenly Mother as Fr. Powell points out:
The Blessed Mother has long served as a template for the Church in the world; that is, when we hear her say to Gabriel, “May it be done to me according to your word;” when we witness the strength of her resolve in the face of opposition to her son's mission; when we see her motherly devotion at the foot of the cross; and the honors given to her by the Father, we see how the Church best lives and works in the world. Mary is more than just a model for the Church. She gave birth to the human body of the Christ 2,000 yrs ago, and the Church is his human body 2,000 yrs later. Mary is the mother of the Christ and his Church. She is my mother and yours. While she mourns the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, she also mourns the sins of his disciples; she mourns for him and his Church as we are persecuted, ridiculed, and rejected; and she mourns for those who will not see, will not hear his Father's offer of mercy. Our Lady of Sorrows could well be called Our Lady of Compassion b/c her pierced heart loves all those who have separated themselves from God and those who have received His mercy and yet remain disobedient. Her compassion shows us our sin, shows us where we have strayed from the faithful way.
If Mary is the Mother of the Church and our model for faithful service, then the Church too must be compassionate toward those who have separated themselves from God. She must also show compassion for those of us who have been adopted into God's family and yet remain disobedient still. We could see this necessary compassion as a weakness, an indulgence of an entitled child's willfulness. But we must remember that the Via Dolorosa, the sorrowful way, is not an easy path for most of us. Jesus is unrelenting in warning those who would follow after him that the powers of this world would stop at nothing to divert, distract, and destroy our progress along the way. In fact, by the world's standards, Jesus is a total failure. He was executed as a criminal, a heretic. And now those who follow him live as signs of an absurd contradiction: they stand for the possibility of redemption from sin and against the inevitable victory of darkness. Like our Mother, the Church's heart is pierced with compassion and mercy so that she might be a living sign, a sacrament of salvation, for all those who suffer, all those who remain in sin. Ask Our Lady of Sorrows to reveal what's in your heart. Ask her to show you the way to the altar of the cross. She's been there. . .many times. She knows the Way.
Might we all come to know the Way more intimately.