To me, “mercy” has always been a throwaway word, overused into gibberish. When Pope Francis first announced an extraordinary jubilee year of mercy, I thought, “Mercy? Why mercy? What does that even mean?”
It was that last question that turned out to be the most important. The problem of this simple, hackneyed word has been gnawing at me until I’ve realized that prising apart its significance for me—both as a recipient and as a giver—is meant to shape this entire year.
Welcome to Mercy on a Monday. For the remainder of this extraordinary jubilee, I will be devoting the first and third Monday of every month to the topic of what it means to practice mercy in the real world. As I type these words, just after Epiphany 2016, already I can tell there are deep oceans waiting to be explored. My goal, as always, is to do that exploration in a thoughtful, practical, way–and as concisely as possible.
Please jump in and comment. Share your own experiences and thoughts. Challenge me, if you think I’m missing something. I want to learn this year, and learning is always better done in community.
“Mercy, I am beginning to realize, is a shortcut to a darned uncomfortable conscience.”
“I’m a word pictures kind of girl, and in the past month, mercy has come to be associated with something soft and cool, pliable, able to bridge the gap between square pegs and round holes. Sarcasm, on the other hand, is a hard, hot slap in the face.”
“If I can’t find it in my heart to give mercy to the person in the world I understand best, how can I hope to give it to people whose perspectives and experiences I cannot understand at all?”
“If I am going to seek to grow in mercy—i.e. ‘entering into the chaos’ of others, of being open-hearted to others—that presupposes a willingness to meet others where they are, rather than forcing them to come to me.”
“When a kid pushes your buttons time and time again (you’ve all got one of these, right?), your heart starts hardening toward them. If you’re not careful, you start expecting the worst from them—and worse, looking for it. And then, when it’s time to discipline, you’ve got all that baggage, and it’s impossible to discipline in love.”
“We are the culture, and if our culture is devoid of mercy, it is because we have made it that way.”
“For the past nine years, Julianna has been quietly living out a much simpler form of mercy, right under my nose. And I never even realized it.”
“The thing about good deeds—and probably the reason certain Christian denominations are so suspicious of considering “works” a vital component of salvation—is that when you do good things, you tend to get really, really self-aware about it. You get this warm glow of self-congratulatory satisfaction, as if you can actually feel your halo expanding.”
“Too often our society as a whole or individuals within it make clear, by their words and actions, that some violations of human dignity place the offender irrevocably beyond redemption. And if we as Christians, and Catholics in particular, are going to be serious about this extraordinary jubilee year of mercy, we have to wrestle with the reality that this isn’t how God would have us approach life’s hardest questions.”
“It was exactly the the thing I’ve always (to be perfectly frank) dreaded about making eye contact with the homeless people: the need to have a conversation. I want to help. But an introvert hates trying to connect to new people anyway, and what can I possibly say to this man, who survives with almost none of the things I consider to be basic necessities?”
“Mercy doesn’t have to be wrapped in solemnity and constrained by knowledge of the world’s suffering. Sometimes mercy can be, well…fun.”
“That whole evening, I watched Julianna fling herself into the void with reckless, joyous abandon. She doesn’t worry about conventions or scruples. She doesn’t worry about the fact that she doesn’t know somebody’s name—she just goes, ‘Oh! Hi! What’s your name?’”
“…in retrospect, I realize that his choice to extend mercy was the single most effective discipline he could have imposed. Because I knew I deserved punishment, and escaping it made me so very aware of the need to be better.”
“To Instruct the uneducated, including oneself, and to recognize ones lack of knowledge and to refrain from instruction when necessary.”
“The thing that has stuck with me, this whole week, was that this woman knew nothing at all about me. She gave herself permission to be accuser, judge, jury, and executioner, with no defense allowed.”
“Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense to add my own words to the clutter in the blogosphere, because other people have said it so well.”
“Why do I give myself permission to self-flagellate for things I can neither control nor would ever dream of holding against anyone else?”
“We need to rethink the meaning of “visit the sick”. There are ways to help a family overwhelmed by illness—even the petty kind that lasts a month and doesn’t threaten anyone’s life–without exposing yourself to the same illness.”
“I get so tired of being asked to arbitrate ‘he hit/kicked/pinched me’ or ‘he won’t give me the fill-in-the-blank.’ Because a hit was almost always provoked by the victim at the end of a long escalation, and you can never tell who actually fired the first shot.”
“For better and for worse (and it really is both), we are an interconnected world now, and we need to recognize that and start participating in finding solutions. War probably isn’t the answer. Diplomacy might not work, either. But mercy? Mercy just might put a dent in the carnage.”