The Father provides our model for mercy
Some time ago, readers may recall the listening sessions which Archbishop George J. Lucas held around the archdiocese to elicit comments about pastoral priorities for the future. The archbishop’s vision for the near future of the archdiocese is that we work together to support "One church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, living mercy."
It’s the "living mercy" part that I would like to focus on in the next few columns, starting first with some thoughts on mercy.
At a morning of reflection held for those involved in jail and prison ministry, we were blessed to have Monica Hejkal, an Apostolic Oblate of the Pro Sanctity Movement, present her thoughts on mercy. To help us along, she provided excerpts from St. John Paul II’s 1980 document "Dives in Misericordia," the opening of which reads: "It is ‘God, who is rich in mercy’ (Eph. 2:4)…."
There were four things I took from Monica’s presentation and the pope’s document that have been very helpful for me as I have contemplated what the archbishop’s living mercy might look like.
The first is that mercy is a mode of loving we learn from God. It is not mere pity, or just a compassionate look. Mercy is a love poured out on misery. Mercy becomes mercy when it comes into contact with pain and suffering.
That leads to the second point. Mercy can be shown in a multitude of contexts. We can live mercy out in the street, in our homes, in our workplace, in our parishes, because pain and suffering are all around us. One of the quintessential stories of mercy in the Bible is the parable of the Prodigal Son. In it, the father lived mercy in his own household for his son, who was lost but was now found.
The third focus of Monica’s reflection was that when we look for real mercy we need to look beyond the physical. Pain and suffering can involve physical poverty, but it also can involve moral and spiritual poverty. Therefore, living mercy is less about what we provide to those around us as much as it is about the mode in which we provide it.
As St. John Paul II explains, "mercy is manifested … when it restores to value, promotes and draws good from all the forms of evil existing in the world and in man." That means that as we in the archdiocese seek to live mercy, we want to make sure that the way we serve helps to humanize those we serve.
Finally, it was confirmed in understanding that living mercy authentically cannot take place without first understanding the mode of the Father’s love for each and every one of us. You can’t give what you don’t have, they say. And the Father provides the model for mercy, for he sent his only Son, who is the face of mercy.
So what does this all mean for us? To live a real mercy that humanizes those around us, that reveals to them who they truly are, requires first our own encounter with Jesus. And the best way to show someone who they really are is to draw them into a communion that helps them see who they are, for we are communal beings and it is communion that makes our own encounter with Jesus possible.
In the coming months, please pray we can learn more about our one church, encountering Jesus, equipping disciples, and so live mercy. Please pray, too, for those involved in implementing these pastoral priorities of the archbishop and the people of God.
Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.