It is such a simple word. We use it all the time. But often I fear we use it in the wrong way, as if it means we are bestowing a favor on someone not really deserving of it. It’s like when we say, “He’s at your mercy.” You have the power. You can give thumbs up or down.
I am certain that is not what Pope Francis had in mind when he opened the Holy Door at St. Peter’s last month to begin this Jubilee Year of Mercy. So many in our Church through the centuries have come to understand this: Mercy is at the center of our faith, as it is God’s love made manifest in our lives.
Consider the words that the Holy Father used to announce the Jubilee Year: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith.”
The mercy of this Jubilee Year does not come from power, it comes from love. It is incumbent upon us in this Jubilee Year to contemplate what that means for each and every one of us. Mercy asks that we bring love—and compassion—to those who need it.
In this way, mercy can be seen as the basis for the social mission of our Church, and of Catholic Relief Services. The bishops of the United States founded and support CRS for one reason: to make manifest God’s mercy among the poor and vulnerable around the world.
Mercy is really a call to action. That is why it inspired the Works of Mercy—both the corporal works from the commands Jesus gives us in Matthew 25, feeding the poor, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, visiting the sick and imprisoned; and the spiritual works, which ask us to instruct and counsel, to forgive and comfort, and to pray.
But in answering the call to action that mercy demands, you are not putting a burden on yourself, you are relieving yourself of a burden.
As Pope Francis said, “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace.”
When he opened the Holy Door—and with that called for doors in cathedrals around the world to be opened—he said it was “an invitation to joy.”
For that is what you find in mercy—not a burden, but joy.
I know that we find mercy at CRS every day, working with the poor. It is, as I have said many times, a privilege to do this work because it does lead to such joy. That is not to say that we do not see violence and deprivation. These are undeniable realities. But in approaching people not with fear or sadness, but with mercy, you truly find joy.
I understand that as we begin 2016, we can find many reasons for sorrow: the incessant fighting in Syria, the outpouring of refugees, the acts of terrorism that bring fear and apprehension, the ongoing wars in Central African Republic and South Sudan, other conflicts that fester.
But if we see those through the lens of this Jubilee Year, if we find what Pope Francis calls, “true mercy, the mercy God gives to us and teaches us,” we will find joy—genuine joy.
May blessings overflow,
Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
President & CEO
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