It comes at a time when the world is dumbstruck by the massacres in Paris and Mali, and across the Middle East and much of Africa, murder is committed in the name of religion and for the sake of power.
Here in the United States, we are debating whether to accept refugees fleeing these war-torn countries because our fears of terrorism outweigh our generosity. This year will encompass our bitter and angry national election. The Internet is full of mercilessness and venom, and the streets of our cities are full of division and distrust.
This Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis comes at a time when so many of us are feeling anything but merciful. Vengeance, fear, anger, resentment, envy: yes. Mercy, not so much.
Pope Francis, who has echoed his predecessors in declaring the centrality of mercy in the Church’s mission and message, has observed that mercy “seems to have dropped out of use” in the modern lexicon. Indeed, one of the most common uses of the word mercy is now associated with death: Mercy killing.
So how providential it is that when our age is barren of mercy, the Church is reminding us that mercy is at the heart of the Christian witness. The Good News we proclaim is that “the Lord is kind and merciful,” that God’s “mercy endures forever.” In Advent, we are reminded that the greatest act of mercy of all history was God sending his Son to redeem us; the innocent saving the guilty.
Mercy is the most radical of messages in a world where survival of the fittest and the most unforgiving is more the order of the day. Mercy calls for the virtue of humility, for we who know that our own salvation depends on God’s mercy are called to bring a message of mercy to our families, our communities, our nation. Mercy does not require us to turn a blind eye to sin, nor does it deny justice. Mercy goes beyond justice, however. In the Gospel story of Jesus and the adulteress, Jesus recognizes the sinfulness of the woman (“Go and sin no more”), yet saves her life — despite what the law says is the punishment for adultery. He does so by identifying the sin in the hearts of those who were about to stone her, making it clear that they, too, were in need of God’s mercy.
This Holy Year is a blessing from God, calling all of us to acknowledge the mercy we have experienced and to share that mercy with others, perhaps in the following ways:
- Share it in our families, where mercy is sometimes the most lacking and the most needed. In the family, mercy can be found in the smallest of gestures, yet sometimes is the most difficult to show.
- Share it in our parishes and dioceses, where the pope invites us to make pilgrimages, to put into practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, to reach out to those who may feel most unloved or unwelcome.
- Share it in our nation, where the powerful witness of mercy may be an antidote to the anger and the bitterness that seems so prevalent.
In the psalms and the parables, in the lives of the saints and teachings of the popes, in the words of the Mass that we say every week, lessons of mercy abound. This week, Catholics should begin a yearlong reflection on the mercy we have received and the mercy we are being called to live.