The Old Man had it. And I was as good as dead.
It was 1965, and I was a sophomore at Manhattan Prep, a Christian Brothers’ high school on the campus of Manhattan College in the Bronx. A classmate had found a dirty paperback book — literally and figuratively — in a trash can, and it was making the rounds.
When my turn came, I stashed it under a rarely used couch in an upstairs room at our house. When I went to retrieve it, there was nothing under there except an old sock. The dog-eared paperback was gone. And I knew I was in for it.
There was no talking my way out of this one. No one else to blame. No rationalizations. Fitting punishment back then? Maybe banishment.
It took 24 hours. Longest 24 hours of my life. The Old Man walked into my room where I was faking doing homework. He held up the book by its edge with two fingers, as if it was a dead mouse.
“I don’t want this stuff in our home,” he said, and followed up with a brief lecture on respect for girls. And respect for myself. Then he left, taking the book to its rightful place in another trash can.
But he never mentioned it again. I wasn’t banished. I wasn’t grounded. Nothing. It was done. I was forgiven.
The Holy Father calls us to think about, celebrate and experience the joy of God’s mercy in the coming jubilee year. That will be our focus from the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 to Nov. 20, 2016, the feast of Christ the King. It will be a “favorable time to heal wounds,” the Holy Father has explained.
As we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy, it’s good to keep our understanding correct. God’s mercy doesn’t ignore sin. To the contrary, God’s mercy fully understands that punishment is due. Our sin is real; it owns us, and punishment is not only right but just.
But God’s mercy goes beyond the law. It goes beyond just punishment. His mercy is unconditional forgiveness when we do not deserve forgiveness. God’s mercy doesn’t make sin disappear. It conquers it.
We’re asked to focus in the jubilee year on the good old corporal and spiritual works of mercy. You remember the corporal works:
Feed the hungry. The shame that every generation faces is hunger in our midst.
Shelter the homeless. Never shut a door to one of God’s own — which means anyone.
Visit the sick. Nothing worse than a hospital visit. Except not doing it.
Visit the imprisoned. There are a lot of prisons. Some have bars. Don’t let anyone be alone in a jail of their own creation.
Give drink to the thirsty. This isn’t just a cold beer on a warm night. It’s also sharing the thirst for truth.
Bury the dead. A friend told me that the pain was too much, and he couldn’t go to another friend’s funeral. Then he did.
Then there are the spiritual works:
Convert sinners, without a lecture; instruct the ignorant, without an agenda; advise the doubtful, without righteousness.
Comfort the sorrowful, in kindness; bear wrongs patiently, in grace; forgive injuries, in charity; pray for the living and the dead, in hope.
Then there’s that other corporal work of mercy I skipped: clothe the naked. In 1965, that could have also meant avoiding dirty books. Give that a contemporary technological twist in avoiding the porn that is always just a mouse-click away.
I was not the most popular kid in class when I explained the disposition of our dirty book. But that was OK. It belonged in the garbage. And I had the Old Man’s mercy. It didn’t get much better than that, even for a high school sophomore.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Indiana.