Mercy Me! There’s a Jubilee coming. [Free Faith Festival Session]
Photo by Leticia Bertin on Flickr
If ever there was an opportunity for us to celebrate and be grateful for God’s mercy and compassion and forgiveness, it’s now. Carpe diem! Seize the day! Since Pope Francis announced a Jubilee Year of Mercy beginning December 8th on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and ending on November 20th of 2016, we’ve probably all been thinking about how we can weave the theme of mercy into our evangelization and catechesis. But before we get there, maybe there’s a preliminary step!
I think the first thing I need to keep in mind is to not create ways I can use the Jubilee Year of Mercy in my ministry. (That will come later.) I believe Pope Francis is calling me to show mercy myself. I have the audacity to pray the Lord’s Prayer every day. Sometimes I don’t pay attention to the fact that I am asking God to forgive me only to the degree I forgive others. No more, no less. It’s a scary thought. I am certain I’d rather be judged by God than by me. So perhaps the best way I can enter into the Year of Mercy is to become a person of mercy, to forgive, to offer mercy when I really want justice, and to have a more compassionate heart. What do you think?
I am imagining my family, my parish, my workplace all being communities in which everyone shows mercy to others and receives mercy in return with trust and joy. Wouldn’t that alone change the world, or at least my little corner of it? Since faith is so much more caught than taught, our children are more likely to trust in God’s mercy when they receive it from those of us who are seen as “church” people.
There is something incredibly awesome about mercy. When I studied Shakespeare in college, the description of mercy in The Merchant of Venice moved me deeply. Shakespeare wrote:
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
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:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.” — The Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1
Wow! Mercy blesses the giver and the receiver. Without mercy, I wouldn’t stand a chance! Mercy seasons justice. Shakespeare really offers food for thought. And it always comes back to the message Pope Francis constantly shares with us—that God’s mercy is limitless, that God is always ready to forgive, that God sees us as worth the effort.
When I was a high school religion teacher, one of the biggest challenges I felt was balancing the message of God’s limitless love and forgiveness with the importance of living an ethical, moral life. I was always afraid the girls I taught (it was an all-girls’ Catholic school) would hear the part about everything being forgivable and decide they could do anything they wanted—as long as they were sorry about it afterwards. The older I got (and hopefully the wiser), the more I became convinced that the truth is everyone needs to hear God’s message of mercy. We all sin, we all fail, we all need hope and forgiveness and, yes, mercy. And how can we know, love, and serve God if we don’t understand that God (forgive the double negative) can’t NOT be merciful?
A mother who home schools her children was in a workshop I gave recently on family faith. She was passionate about how important it is for parents to help their children feel God’s love - to help them develop a close relationship with Jesus so that he is real and ever-present in their lives. She sees that as her most important task as a mom. I think she is a very wise woman! I have a feeling her children will always know and fall back on God’s unconditional love for them. (I probably should have had that mom give the rest of the workshop!)
During the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I do plan to weave mercy into every workshop I give and every resource I write. I think it will be the perfect time to remind Catholics of the beautiful gift of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. I love this sacrament, maybe because I tend to mess up so often. I usually walk out of the confessional with a big smile on my face. I’ve been forgiven. God doesn’t hold grudges. I am loved unconditionally. God is merciful.
But the most important thing I want to do in the Jubilee Year is be a person of mercy. I want to live the beatitude, “Blessed are the merciful.” I want to be the opposite of the unforgiving servant. That’s my goal...and by the way, I don’t plan to wait until December 8 to begin.
To help you unpack the theme of mercy with the families you serve, consider using Forgiveness Matters Faith Festival by Jane Angha. This session is a complimentary resource from our Fashioning Faith subscription. To find out more about Fashioning Faith, please visit www.FashioningFaith.org.