Living mercy much more than a slogan

The last two months I’ve been writing about mercy and how it connects to our faith in the context of Archbishop George J. Lucas’ pastoral priorities. Those priorities are expressed in the phrase "One Church: encountering Jesus, equipping disciples and living mercy."

This month I’d like to invite us all to a more concrete examination of what living mercy could look like. But first, let me share something about myself.

In July of 2001, my father passed away from cancer. I had cared for him over the previous eight months, and with his passing I pursued a job in another state. So just four days after 9/11, I moved from Ohio to Wisconsin to start working at a small rural parish.

I had a beard back then and my name was still Omar, so you can imagine the concern and worry of some of the families when they heard that a bearded guy named Omar was coming to work at their parish. To this day, I still remember the audible gasp that came from behind me when the pastor announced my name at Mass.

I was never assaulted because of my appearance or for my name, but I did get a lot of prying questions at the rectory, questions about where I was from – "Michigan," I’d tell them, because that’s where I was born. I was always "randomly" patted down at airports, and I frequently got odd looks at the grocery store.

I bring all this up because, as I think about what living mercy looks like, I figure that being merciful must mean, at a very fundamental level, that we can look past the skin color or facial hair of another to see the person’s humanity. It’s got to mean we welcome and protect and care for immigrants just trying to feed their families, or the refugees who – by definition – are seeking refuge here from those who would murder them and their families. Being merciful must certainly mean that we care for our family members when they are suffering, no matter the history.

In my case with my father, it meant looking past someone who had done harm to my family and who had long ago rejected God, but who needed some care and concern at the end of his life. My dad did find God again and reconciled himself with the church through the wonderful mercy of the sacrament of reconciliation. And that family who gasped at Mass when I was introduced, became really good friends of mine over the years.

In other words, living mercy cannot just be a slogan for the Christian. It must be how we live because it is how Jesus himself told us to live. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37), Jesus tells us that living mercy means seeing past centuries of culturally engrained hatred for another people to see the one person in need before us. So today it means looking past someone’s legal status or their different religion to see the person in danger and to show them mercy.

This Lent, maybe we could all spend some time to meditate on the God who shows mercy. We could all make a point to go to the sacrament of reconciliation. Maybe we could all be intentional about growing in our own mercy toward family members who need our help and to the neighbors in our midst who need protection and guidance and care.

Whatever we do this Lent, let us draw closer to Jesus, who is the face of mercy and who will show us how and where to live mercy now.


Omar Gutierrez is manager of the archdiocesan Office of Missions and Justice. Contact him at

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