Mercy at the heart of efforts to build a culture of life, love
Recently, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Pro-Life Activities, announced the 2016-2017 theme for the Respect Life program: "Moved by Mercy."
I first learned about this theme in August at the USCCB pro-life director’s conference. The moment I heard the theme, I thought somebody at the USCCB should get a raise. What a beautiful and fitting theme. No doubt this theme is a work of the Holy Spirit and will bear tremendous fruit.
The universal church has spent this last year entering more deeply into the Year of Mercy, focusing on the meaning of the Father’s merciful love. As I am sure it has been for you, the Year of Mercy for me has been a particularly enlightening time. In the last year, I have recognized the innumerable ways Jesus Christ – "the face of the Father’s mercy" – has been utterly and unconditionally merciful to me.
Yet, this jubilee year has been a call to not only notice the mercy of God in our own lives, but also to live mercy in a more intentional way as we offer our lives as a gift of self for others. In this way, we can "be merciful just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36).
As Pope Francis proclaimed at the outset of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy: "We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us." In other words, to return to this year’s Respect Life theme, we are called to be moved by mercy.
This attitude of mercy must be constantly in our hearts and on our lips as we bring the way, truth and life of Jesus Christ into the culture through our witness of missionary discipleship. This is not easy. In fact, it is a daunting task considering the non-stop attacks on human life.
On a daily basis, we are faced with the evil of abortion and contraception. We are faced with the manipulation and destruction of embryonic human life. We are faced with the threat of human clones and human-animal chimeras. We are faced with the ills of human sex trafficking and pornography. We are faced with direct attacks against the sacred institution of marriage. We are faced with unjust wars, terroristic attacks, and genocide. We are faced with the subjection of workers and the poor with subhuman living conditions. We are faced with the alienation of the elderly and the rising threat of assisted suicide. Constantly, we are faced with threats against the good of human life.
That we witness such evil can result in distortion. We easily become jaded, bitter and cynical toward such realities. We even become jaded, bitter and cynical toward those who fall prey to or participate in such evils.
All of these attacks reveal the wounded nature of our culture, of a people who – like our first parents, Adam and Eve – have rejected the love of God. But the attitude of God toward this wounded nature is not severity, but mercy. Even the first fall of man was followed by the announcement of the coming of mercy, Jesus Christ.
As Christ has looked down on our lowliness, we can look upon the lowliness of those around us who have been deeply wounded by any number of attacks on human life. We do this always with the gaze of love, never the gaze of severity. As the hands and feet of Christ – as ones who have received the mercy of Christ – we can help to apply the healing balm of mercy.
To steal the prayer with which Cardinal Dolan concluded this year’s Respect Life Month letter: "Let’s ask God to make us channels of his loving mercy: Lord, help us to receive your mercy and turn to you each moment. And please guide us in extending your mercy to others today."
As we begin to see this year’s Respect Life theme promoted in your parishes, I pray that we are all constantly moved by mercy as we seek to build a culture of life and civilization of love.
Tom Venzor is executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference, with headquarters in Lincoln. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.