Reflection On Mercy

His hand was shaking. He was holding firmly on to mine. I almost couldn't tell if he was using my hand to hold himself up or if he was expressing his gratitude for the gift that he had just received. 

As part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, a couple of us decided to go to the streets where we knew we would come across some of Edmonton's poor people. We had bought gift cards to Subway, McDonald's and Tim Horton's to hand out. No strings attached. We expected nothing in return. We would talk if they liked. Otherwise they were free to take it and leave. 

This man was walking down the sidewalk slowly and carefully while trembling with his friend next to him. His friend was very grateful for the gift cards, but this man didn't say much. Rather, he reached out carefully to thank me with a handshake, and when our hands met, he just looked at me with the most grateful and loving eyes. I can only describe it as a deep exchange of mercy. 

Mercy is a misunderstood term these days. We often think of it as something that people don't deserve like the criminal who pleads for mercy from the judge, or the little brother yelling for mercy when wrestling. We also hear of mercy-killing - the taking of someone's life in order to prevent further suffering. However, none of these cases fit the definition of genuine mercy. 

God created us out of love and for love. Proof of that love is his mercy. But while we are all created in his image and likeness, that divine likeness has been disfigured by sin. The consequence is that every aspect of our lives is tarnished leading us to loose sight of our original purpose (to love) and dignity (to image God). This is the horrendous state that every person finds themselves in. 

But St. John Paul II reminds us that "mercy is love's second name." It is through God's relentless love that mercy comes into play and restores what is destroyed due to sin. The entire purpose of mercy is for this restoration. Mercy restores us to even greater depths of love than when we were first created. 

We can use the example of friendship to help make the point. Imagine a friend who has betrayed you. You could walk away from that friendship and it would be just. You could offer forgiveness which would be charitable. Or you could desire for the relationship to be restored - and not just restored - but deepened to a level that was previously not enjoyed. Many of us would have a difficult time offering others this third option, but this is precisely what God wants to give us. 

By granting us mercy, God wants to restore us in his divine friendship and deepen our relationship with him. Mercy takes what was lost and restores it - not because we deserve it - but because God loves us unendingly! And, in receiving mercy, we are given a heavenly license to share mercy with others. The gift to the man on the street was not much, but it was enough that when he looked at me I knew there was inner restoration. 

Going forward in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us not be afraid to become apostles of mercy and of restoration to everyone we meet after having received the very gift of mercy ourselves. 

Showing Mercy

Will you show no mercy, or will you show and know mercy?

In order to show mercy, you have to know mercy. Once you know it, it’s too good to keep to yourself; you absolutely need to share it with others. But, what exactly is mercy? It’s tough to talk about if you’re not sure what it is. Much less to pass it on when you’re not sure how to identify it.

The co-founder of Catholic Christian Outreach, Andre Regnier, said at Rise Up Montreal 2015: “Mercy is kindness or help for someone in great need.” Therefore, Regnier pointed out that mercy has two key elements: it’s entirely personal, and it’s relatable to your situation and to your worries in a way that makes you feel loved and valued. An example of mercy can be when your mom lets you off the hook from doing chores so that you can work on homework that’s due tomorrow instead. In this gesture of kindness, your mom shows mercy to your situation and alleviates some of the stress you feel. I’m sure she would have preferred that you do the chores that she expects of you, but because she sees that you are stressed about completing your assignment, she knows that it would be better if you had more time to work on it. She does it out of kindness, and she helps out your current situation in a way that shows how much she loves you and is concerned for your well-being.

In the same way, God offers all of us mercy as well, but instead of excusing us from a chore, God’s mercy is directed towards our souls and our sin. He forgives us from our sins and removes them, which is a pretty big deal. God’s mercy is always available to us — all we need to do is acknowledge and ask for it in order to let Him work in our hearts. God’s mercy is always personal and relevant to our situations. He knows the deepest corners of our hearts, and if we let Him into those places with the intention of allowing Him to encounter the darkness hidden there, He will provide the kindness, healing, and help we need.

Even though His mercy is available whenever and wherever we want, sometimes we need a little help to recognize it acting in our lives. There are physical representations of His mercy in our world to help us encounter it in a real way. During this Year of Mercy, there is a Door of Mercy located in every diocese of the universal Church. In other words, there is a real door somewhere in each diocese designated as the Door. Anyone can pass through it in faith. This action represents that we are open to saying “Yes” to receiving God’s mercy into our hearts and showing mercy to others in turn.

Another way to experience God’s mercy in a tangible manner is through the sacrament of Reconciliation. By naming the times we’ve failed to show mercy to ourselves and to others, we allow God to show His mercy to us; in His love, He meets us in our most shameful moments and shows us the joy of reuniting ourselves to him. His forgiveness is relevant to our hearts, and once we’ve seen His mercy towards us, we can’t help but  be filled with it and desire to show others this same mercy that we have come to know.

Mercy: A Little Give and Take

St. John Paul II calls the Catholic Church "the trustee and dispenser" of Christ's saving mercy. I think that this is one of those statements that is easy to ignore. So many great statements about God and the Church by the Saints often evoke strong initial reactions, but can, later, easily burn away and be forgotten, yet I think that this image of the Church as the one Christ has trusted to store and dispense mercy could easily be a foundation of our faith. Christ does not offer us His mercy just so we can store it away and allow it to be forgotten, nor does He offer it to us solely to give and not experience ourselves. Mercy is a gift that we are called to receive, and then once we have received it, we are called again to offer it to others.

The apostles of the Church understood this message about mercy the best. St Peter, for example, received God's mercy when he was forgiven after the resurrection for abandoning Jesus at His crucifixion. St Peter did not receive Christ's mercy then keep it inside of himself with the hope that, like a deposit in a bank, it would accrue interest; St Peter received Christ's mercy then shared it with the world. God's mercy may not always look exactly like how we anticipated nor how we would have chosen for ourselves. St Paul, like St Peter, received God's mercy then embraced his vocation fully and spread the message of God's mercy until he was eventually arrested and martyred for it, but surely, as a young man, this vocation could not have been what he had anticipated. In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul describes how, early in his life, he was zealously devoted to his Jewish faith; St Paul thought that he understood the plan that God had for him, and since this plan involved a faithful devotion to Jewish life, he did not hesitate to be one, among many, to persecute the early Christian community. God's mercy came to St Paul in the form of a drastic conversion, and he was blinded for three days. God offered St Paul His mercy, and when St Paul accepted it, mercy came in a way that he could not have anticipated, yet St Paul fully embraced it. St Paul spent the remainder of his life sharing his experience of God's mercy with others with the hope that they would likewise embrace it then share it with the world.

As members of the Church, we are not called to simply receive Christ's mercy and keep it for ourselves, nor are we called to share the message of God's mercy without empathy because we have received it too. We receive God's mercy in the sacraments, especially the sacrament of Reconciliation. Our reception of Jesus in the sacraments needs to lead us to a greater love of Jesus so that, in relationship with Him, we can understand His mercy even more, and then share it with the world. 

Know Mercy

Our conference theme is “Show, Know Mercy”. But what does ‘mercy’ mean? Do you know what ‘mercy’ means?

I didn’t either, so I consulted Google, which gives us three definitions:

1.      “Compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm”

2.      “An event to be grateful for, especially because its occurrence prevents something unpleasant or provides relief from suffering”

3.      It is “performed out of a desire to relieve suffering motivated by compassion”

Simple, right? Mercy works two ways: first you can show mercy to someone by choosing to have compassion for them or forgiving them, when you could hurt them – like forgiving someone who hurt you, instead of gossiping about them. Second, you can receive mercy when someone forgives you or shows compassion and relieves some sort of suffering – like your teacher lets your rewrite a test you did really badly on. In order for these to be acts of mercy they need to be done with the intention to stop another’s suffering.

But these definitions don’t say anything about God; what does mercy have to do with our faith? Lots actually! Psalm 136 tells us over and over (and over and over – seriously, look it up), that the Father is merciful. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells the disciples (and us) to be merciful like the Father is merciful (Luke 6:36). The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we can ask God for mercy when we are suffering (Hebrews 4:14-16).

Because God is merciful, he will show us compassion and mercy, even though we sin and make mistakes. God is love, and loves us more than we can imagine – of course He doesn’t want to see us suffer. But we can only seek God’s forgiveness, compassion and mercy because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. But, as Jesus reminds us, it is not enough for us to simply seek God’s mercy for ourselves, or even to be grateful when we receive God’s mercy, we have to be merciful and forgive others, because God has forgiven us (Luke 6:36). 

Showing mercy towards others can be difficult, especially if they have hurt us, this is why we need to ask for God to help us be merciful towards others. By understanding what mercy is, forgiving and showing compassion towards another, can help us to better understand how we can be merciful to others.

 

Lauren is the Youth Ministry Coordinator at Resurrection Parish.  Regina is the latest stop on her multi, cross-Canada tour. Before this she lived in Toronto while working on her Masters, and in PEI, where she was born. An avid fan of all things Daschund (wiener dogs) and words, her favourite place is curled under a blanket with a dog (or two) and a book or her latest writing project. She blogs over at Letters to the Pope.

From Mess to Mercy

Last year, we came together to make a mess! The right kind of mess... we came to clean up those messes in our lives which were destructive. We came to pray for those messes which were beyond our control. Inspired by Pope Francis' charge to the young people at World Youth Day in Rio, to go home "and make a mess in the dioceses," we were all called to look at those places in our churches, homes and schools in which the "status quo" needed to be challenged. We came together as a community and played ridiculous, messy games, enjoyed inspiring talks, prayed, laughed, sang, danced and served. Our communal prayer over the course of the weekend was "I will go... Send me!"

This year we return again... to laugh, to greet old friends, enjoy great music, games and food. We join together to get out into the community and get our hands "dirty" serving others and most importantly we come to catch our breath and refocus our lives. We long to move forward as the "world changers" we are called to be, inspired this year by the example and challenge of Pope Francis to go out and "Be merciful like the Father." So won't you come and be a part of this exciting journey? Come and find new friendships. Laugh until your side hurts. Talk about things that matter. Make a difference in someone's life. Come to KNOW God's peace and mercy for your own heart. Leave strengthened and inspired to be a peacemaker in the world... prepared to SHOW unconditional love and mercy to a hurting world. Sounds like a weekend well spent to me!! SHOW KNOW MERCY!