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.