Pope Francis declared a Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church. It began on December 8th, 2015 the feast of the Immaculate Conception and will end on November 20th, 2016 the feast of Christ the King. It is a time of forgiveness of sins, and extraordinary graces surrounding God’s mercy. This is an amazing time and the insight of Pope Francis was spot on. Our world needs mercy.
Mercy is great as a concept, it’s even outstanding as an offering, but let me be clear…Mercy will destroy you. Story time. I had a relative who created significant wounds for me and my family. It was enough to build up a fierce bitterness toward them even after they had passed away. Holding on to resentment, for me, created a sense of justice regarding the memory of this relative. It was only right that they be remembered for their faults and failings… but then there is this call to mercy. There I was on a retreat praying for healing and the Holy Spirit spoke into my heart asking me to show this person mercy. Yes, they had been dead for some time, but the Holy Spirit knew the value. I participated and slowly began to offer mercy. It changed me. I had to let go of a bitterness that in a real way defined me. I had to acknowledge a brokenness that was beyond my control to repair. And I wept. Much like gold being refined by fire, I was destroyed and made new.
Mercy is powerful.
Mercy, like grace, is everywhere. It sets us free from the shackles of shame and sorrow so that we can reach new heights. It brings light to the dark areas of our life and our world so we can see the way and guide others. It silences the lies told to us about who we are and drives us into the heart of the adventure that God has for us. Mercy changes everything and gives us an example on how to love, not just others, but ourselves.
There is a scene in Good Will Hunting where the physiologist played by Robin Williams brings Will to a place where the concept of not being responsible for his horrible childhood moves from his head to his heart. Will allows mercy into his heart. (The scene can be found here, but it has some language). This scene showcases what it looks like for mercy to move from the head to the heart. From a concept to a new reality.
The Cost of Mercy
Let’s be clear about the cost of mercy on our end. If you are a person of pride, mercy can wash that away. If you define your worth by your failures, mercy gives you your real meaning. Mercy does not discriminate nor make detours in your life. It demands interior change upon reception. It creates the beautiful mess that is the adventure life when God is writing your story.
In mercy we have the freedom to act without the fear of ridicule or failure. As each error is set into context of a greater journey. In mercy, our ‘not being enough’ for those we serve or those we serve with, allows the vital room for the Holy Spirit to make amazing and unexpected things happen.
How do we receive mercy?
- Get out of its way: No you are not worthy, receive mercy anyways. We have all done some horrible things, mercy awaits everyone.
- Mercy is custom fit for you: Go to where you find spiritual inspiration, there you will also find mercy. Our God has created many paths to mercy for He desires each of His children to access it.
- Make Space in your life for Mercy: Silence, Prayer, Sacraments, Reflection, and Study.
- Find comfort in the Uncomfortable: Mercy challenges us to receive what we cannot pay back. It is unmerited. This goes against the way we were raised, often how we are loved, certainly how we got good grades and even how our performance is measured as ministers and employees. It is truly gift.
- Practice Mercy: I use the word practice because we may need more than a few tries to better understand it. Being merciful to others connects us deeper to the true giver of mercy Jesus Christ.
- Expect Mercy: When you awake each day, have mercy on your mind, so that you can see the countless moments where God is offering you His gift of mercy. It is a gift that God has for us in abundance.
So get it, share it, live it. Mercy will destroy you and in doing so bring you and the world around you a joy unseen.
For those in full time ministry, here are a few more tips.
There are times when the cost of ministry conflicts with our call to mercy.
- You are not called to sacrifice your relationship with your children, spouse, family or friends for the sake of ministry. Be merciful and set boundaries.
- You are not called to sacrifice your spiritual life for the sake of ministry. Be merciful and intentionally schedule time for prayer daily.
- You are not called to be the savior to others. Be merciful and say no to certain ministry opportunities so that others can step forward and represent the savior, or so that the community hungers for someone to step into that role. Ministry, while at times difficult, should be a blessing, not a burden.