The Pope has declared 2016 a “Jubilee Year of Mercy” in the Catholic church, an opportunity for faith-filled people to mindfully practice acts of mercy among their families, communities and in the larger world. No matter what your belief system, practicing works of mercy has the power to both enrich your soul and help alleviate the hardship of another, if you’re brave enough to take it on.
So what is Mercy anyway? To quote Fr. Jim Keenan of Boston College, “Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.” It’s acknowledging the worthiness in another and offering hope and healing.
“Mercy is entering into the chaos of another person’s life.”
And why does it require bravery? Because when you willingly step into another person’s chaos, even with the best of intentions, you might be rejected. Or judged. Or even harmed. And to step TOWARD another soul, you often must step AWAY from your own judgement about it. If you’ve ever thought about giving a homeless person a dollar, and then judged that they might not use it in the way you’d like them to, you know what that feels like.
As followers of Christ, we are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. But looking up at the cross, we realize just how hard that can be. In His most passionate act of mercy on our behalf, Jesus’ hands and feet are broken and bleeding. They are pierced with nails and He cries out, “I thirst.” He has been rejected. It’s not pretty or easy; It is the ultimate surrender to God’s will. But He offers it to us anyway, knowing we are worthy of Easter.
Several years ago I was volunteering at Sacred Heart Community Services in my town. I was working in the clothing shop, where families can come in and shop for free from donated items. A woman came through the line who looked to be in pretty bad shape and we had a few moments of conversation during the “check-out” process. She had teeth missing and what sounded like a painful cough. In those few minutes I learned that she had walked several miles to get to the center that morning, and would now be walking back with her cart. It had been raining, so the streets were wet. I must have said something like “I hope you have a nice walk back”…blah, blah, the usual small talk. I don’t really remember what I said, but I’ll never forget her response. She looked me straight in they eye and touched my hand saying, “Bless you and all that you do.” It wasn’t just the words, but how she said it. I really felt Christ in that moment. Truthfully, I wasn’t doing that much. But for those few moments we shared, she probably felt like a regular customer having regular conversation in a regular store, and she was all-present in the moment. I may have “stepped into her chaos” by being physically there in the store that day. But she stepped back into MY chaos and affirmed that I was doing something of eternal value. And that’s what Mercy does. Love and care freely given can offer both parties the hope that they are worthy of God’s compassion and love. Everybody wins. The Kingdom Comes when His Will is done.
So are you up for practicing some Mercy? You’ve got 14 ways to try it out, including…
the Corporal works of mercy (works that tend to bodily needs of others):
• Feed the hungry
• Give drink to the thirsty
• Clothe the naked
• Shelter the homeless
• Visit the sick
• Visit the imprisoned
• Bury the dead
the Spiritual works of mercy (works that tend to spiritual suffering of others):
• Instruct the ignorant
• Counsel the doubtful
• Admonish sinners
• Bear wrongs patiently
• Forgive offenses
• Comfort the afflicted
• Pray for the living and the dead
Even if you only pick one, the world will be a better place. Pope Francis offers further instruction to a modern world saying, “Every word, every gesture, whether in conversation, social media, or email, ought to reveal God’s compassion.”
Let’s get to work!
My “Works of Mercy” artwork and products can be purchased here: