What do we do with mercy?

Today, Pope Francis inaugurated the Jubilee Year of Mercy to help us bring to the forefront the role of divine mercy in our life and to “rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them.”

Mercy is the place where God’s perfect love meets our brokenness, be it sin, failure, lack or imperfection. It is also where we seek to be like God, to embody the spirit of Christ that we confess lives within us, by extending that same love to the brokenness of others. It seems to me that, over the course of the next (almost) year, we can do the following to grow in mercy:

  1. Understand it. To truly grasp the depth and power of God’s love for us, personally, we need to come to grips with the brokenness we each struggle to hide from others, from God, and from ourselves, and fully understand that God’s love for us surpasses the scars of that brokenness. That in itself is tough.
  2. Accept it. It’s not enough to cognitively understand mercy.  We can do that without fully accepting, in our hearts, that this love of God applies to me, to my particular brokenness. There are a lot of people walking around carrying a lot of stuff not because they don’t know in their heads that God loves them anyway, but because they can’t love themselves past that stuff.
  3. Offer it. We Western Christians can get really wrapped up on the one-on-one, me-and-God component of faith and completely overlook its communitarian dimension. In his homily today, Francis underscores that the reason to dwell on mercy is to empower us to go out beyond ourselves and share it with others. Read the news. Look around. We could all use to offer a lot more mercy, a lot more love, to others this year.*
  4. Receive it. Consider this the flip of #3. Even if I accept God’s love, I can still throw up walls to prevent other people from reaching to me, especially if I hold on to past hurts. Receiving the love of others can be harder than it sounds.
  5. Share it. So, the secret to this year of mercy is that it’s all about spreading the Good News of God’s all-surpassing love with others. Once you’ve experienced it, you’re better able to testify to it. As this is timed to the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, which among many other things fundamentally changed the relationship of the Catholic Church to other religions from one of sullen superiority to respectful encounter, this is not a license to go proselytize the already religious under someone else’s flag. But the “nones,” they are everywhere, as are the disaffected former believers. Bringing them some genuinely Good News about what God wants of them — to love them — is our calling.

* Looking for a way to show mercy? Here are 14 from Catholic tradition. The seven corporal works of mercy:

To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To Shelter the Homeless
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead.

And the seven spiritual works of mercy:

To instruct the ignorant.
To counsel the doubtful.
To admonish sinners.
To bear wrongs patiently.
To forgive offences willingly.
To comfort the afflicted.
To pray for the living and the dead

Try to play blackout bingo on these instead of picking and choosing.  And as you delight to instruct the ignorant and admonish sinners, remember that the #1 ignorant sinner is usually in the mirror.

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