Recently I read an article about young people discussing why Pope Francis called this year a ‘Year of Mercy’. Why Mercy? Couldn’t he call it the year of Compassion or the year of Kindness to others? Sister Elizabeth Gilroy lcm reflects on these questions.
Recently I read an article about young people discussing why Pope Francis called this year a ‘Year of Mercy’. What does it mean? Why Mercy? Couldn’t he call it the year of Compassion or the year of Kindness to others? Certainly compassion and kindness to others is essential to live the Christian life, but Mercy? To understand this word, I have read and reflected over Pope Francis’ words and looked at his active examples which he obviously has lived, as one lives the Gospel each day.
The motto of the Holy year, Merciful like the Father serves as an invitation for us to follow the example of the Father who asks us not to judge or condemn, but to forgive and to give love and forgiveness without measure. The first step is for each of us to forgive and not judge ourselves. Pope Francis reminds us that “God always loves first, unconditionally, and he welcomes us just as we are by embracing us and forgiving us.”
A good example is the picture of a weary disheartened Peter who after spending a whole night without catching any fish being told by Jesus to throw the nets back in the water. What? After all that time with nothing caught? Ah! There is a relationship developing which Peter had the sense to listen to. Yes, we know the story; he threw the nets back in and caught so many fish. Why did Peter listen to Jesus? On reflecting on this story in the light of ‘Mercy’ I think Peter had a deep sense he was loved and not judged by Jesus. Jesus must have seen something in Peter and Peter picked that up and ‘followed him’ with love, aware of his weaknesses and humanness, yet enthusiastic to drop everything and follow Jesus.
On the 30th January 2016, Pope Francis explained to those gathered in St Peter’s Square that to “encounter Jesus was to experience his love, which transforms us and compels us, and in turn, to share his love.” He stressed that every Christian was the “bearer of Christ” and said that the mercy we receive from the Father is not given solely for our benefit, but for the good of all, by transforming us into instruments, missionaries of mercy.” To be a Christian and to be a missionary is the same thing. We are called to proclaim the Gospel by the way we live, as pointed out by St Francis of Assisi: “to use words only when necessary.”
Being aware of our frailties, our weakness is the beginning of opening ourselves to the complete love and acceptance of God. We come to believe that we are forgiven, and therefore we are open to forgive others. So we can now begin to forgive those who have hurt us, who criticise us and those who judge us. Receiving insight into the amazing love of God for each one of us will hopefully lead us to neutralize our negative feelings. We can then let go of those hurts and be more reconciled to each other. The more we practise Mercy the closer we allow ourselves to be loved and accepted by a loving God.
[Founder of the Little Company of Mary] Venerable Mary Potter wrote extensively about the Mercy of God. She was so aware of being loved by God because she listened and trusted God. She wrote in her ‘Obedience Notes’ Volume 5, no. 15.
“Silently open your soul to the divine influence. Forget a little while even your own unworthiness that you expand your whole being to appreciate (can we so express) the immensity of God’s Goodness and love, His love for you, His desire to do you good, to give you pleasure, to pour out his gifts upon you.”
This then is the example for us to do this for others. We are asked to forgive, to heal the wounded, to show our love and acceptance to those who suffer. We do not know what suffering others have. What are their stories? Unless we have the privilege to talk in depth, we will not know the terrible suffering our neighbour is experiencing. Of course it takes courage to allow ourselves to give time to listen, to hear their stories. What healing and mercy we are showing when we listen with compassion and not judge what we are hearing.
Another example given in the life of Venerable Mary Potter was when she shared her feelings of emptiness and desolation in prayer after she left the Sisters of Mercy. She wrote that the inner desolation and suffering during her illness was a powerful experience that helped her to realise that so many other people must go through this terrible trial of not being able to pray. Mary did not sink into self-pity, but used the experience to be more aware of the sufferings of others. This time became a blessing as she received insights into her ‘nothingness’ before God, and she had deep peace about it, and through this experience of trust and letting go, she was more alert and aware of the suffering of others. She was able to accept the MERCY of God and pass it onto us. Again, to quote Pope Francis as it is so applicable to the example of Venerable Mary Potter, “The mercy that we receive from the Father was given to us as a private consolation, but it also makes us tools so that others can receive the same gift.”
Now I return to the young people who were questioning the title of Year of MERCY. Compassion and Kindness is an offshoot of MERCY, and through listening to each other and getting to know the examples of Jesus in his great love of each of us, we too, will gradually grow into being “one” with God, by being alert to others’ needs, and loving towards those who are shown injustice; to the poor; the refugees; our families.
Even Shakespeare wrote about Mercy! I will include the first verse! William Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice Act 1V Scene 1:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest,
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
Let us be open to encounter Jesus to experience his love, a love which transforms us and compels us, in turn to share this love.
This was first published on 19 February 2016 on the website of The Little Company of Mary Australia.