In this first week of 2016, I have been spending time reflecting on the words of Pope Francis about the mercy of God.
Our Holy Father writes that, “mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.”
Mercy is a profound and transformative force, one that can unite our families and communities, and can calm and soften our troubled hearts. Mercy can draw each one of us into deeper communion and friendship with one another, and with God.
It should be obvious to most of us that the world is in great need of mercy at this particular time in history. On Christmas Eve, Pope Francis said that, “In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.”
The Year of Mercy is a call precisely to do those things: to cultivate a sense of justice which includes a true sense of God’s mercy, and to develop a sense of mercy within ourselves by faithful and devout commitment to the daily practice of prayer.
On Dec. 8, we began the “Jubilee Year of Mercy” that will last for most of 2016. During the Year of Mercy, we will give thanks for God’s mercy to us, and seek to become more merciful to one another. As we begin this Year of Mercy, I have already been encouraged that Catholics across our diocese continue to be committed to works of mercy: to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, visit the lonely and indigent, and to pray for those in need of healing, forgiveness, and peace.
Mercy often does as much good for the merciful as it does for those who receive mercy. When we forgive a wrong, we are relieved from the burden of bearing a grudge. When we give what we have to those who need it, we discover the freedom and joy of unbounded generosity. When we give ourselves to others, we discover the profound meaning of our humanity: to love, simply, in imitation of the profound and merciful love with which God loves us.
“Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,” said Jesus Christ. “But whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
Mercy gives our lives meaning. We are made for mercy: made to receive mercy, and made to be merciful to others.
Of course mercy is not without challenges. As we practice mercy, we discover our shortcomings, and our egocentricities, and our preference for the comfortable and easy paths. We discover, in short, our sinfulness. When we fail, we repent, receive God’s forgiveness, resolve to do better, and try again. As we’re challenged by the difficulties of being merciful, we discover that we can’t do it on our own. To love other people as they deserve, we need the grace of God in our lives.
Amid the chaos, violence, and hopelessness of modern culture, in a time when so many people are seeking meaning and answers, we should consider making 2016 a “year of mercy” in our personal and family lives. We might find that mercy has a multiplying effect: one act of mercy encourages another; our merciful choices begin to form the foundation for a civilization of love.
New Year’s resolutions, of course, are seldom kept. Gym memberships begun in January are often abandoned by March. So are diets, and many other resolutions. Despite our good intentions, we are most influenced by our habits: and developing the habits of virtue requires a long-standing commitment, and the grace of God.
But in 2016, the Church asks us to develop the habits of mercy, and I pray that we will resolve to do so. I pray that we will resolve to practice the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and, most especially, that we will resolve to develop the habits of prayer from which true mercy springs.
I pray that in this Year of Mercy, each one of us will encounter the love of God, and that we will find love, hope, joy and peace in giving and receiving the boundless gift of mercy.