Mercy has always been a difficult word for me to understand. As we begin the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I have found myself reflecting on the deeper meaning of mercy and why Pope Francis has declared this a year of jubilee. I don’t know about you, but I normally wouldn’t put the two words “jubilee” and “mercy” together. When I think of the word “jubilee,” I think of rejoicing and celebrating. When I think of the word “mercy,” I think of compassion and sacrifice. So why has Pope Francis declared this a year of celebrating mercy?
First of all, what is mercy? Mercy is a hard word to define, but I feel like I really came to understand it better while listening to Episode 43 of the Catholic Sip podcast, Merciful Like the Father. On this episode, Fr. Jeff Walker gave a definition from the book I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C.J. d’Elbée. He said to think of the Latin word for mercy: misericordia. When you break it down to its roots, cor means heart; dia means giving or passing; and misere means misery. Therefore, misericordia literally means a heart that gives to the miserable or, perhaps, one who gives his heart to the miserable. And who are the miserable?
I think the biggest obstacle to mercy in our society is apathy. We are unconcerned with mercy because we don’t realize we need it! I’m not just talking about people who don’t believe in Christ. I’m talking about all of us, myself included. Lately I have been realizing the importance of going to confession on a regular basis, but sometimes I don’t know what to confess and/or I don’t feel the burning need to go. This absolutely does not mean that I’m perfect and sinless – quite the contrary! It often means that I am so oblivious to the things I say or do each day that are hurtful to others, myself, or God; or it means that I neglect doing things that I should do. It reminds me to take time each day to examine my conscience in order to better understand how I am in desperate need of God’s mercy!
So, who are the miserable? We all are! We are miserable because we sin – it’s in our fallen nature. But we have MUCH to rejoice about because God gives His loving, forgiving heart to us. He sent His Son to show His mercy by suffering and dying for us. None of us deserve His mercy, but we can ALL receive it.
How can we receive it? It sounds too easy, but all we have to do is ask. If we have the faith to ask, God will SHOW us His mercy. He will show us His mercy through the sacraments, especially confession and the Eucharist. He will also show us His mercy through prayer and His Holy Spirit. Recently I completed the Alpha course at my parish. One of our last sessions was on the healing power of God and we spent a good amount of time in prayer with our small group. As a table host, it was my responsibility to pray over my group members. Now let me tell you, this is something I do not have a lot of practice doing, and I am not totally comfortable doing it. However, I had gone through a bit of training, and I did my best to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit take over. As I went around the circle, I asked each person what they would like prayer for and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the words to pray. The final week of Alpha, I thought someone at my table was going to burst if she couldn’t tell our table what God had done in her life the past week. She hadn’t even realized until that moment that several things had happened since we had seen her last that really helped her heal from what she had asked prayer for. She thanked me for my prayers, and I gave thanks to God, for it was He who healed her. I was just grateful He let me witness.
We are all in need of healing. We are all in need of mercy. Have you asked God for it? As we begin this new year, make a resolution with me to reflect on the areas of our lives that need God’s mercy and ask Him for it. When we experience God’s mercy in our lives, we will be like my friend from Alpha, so full of joy we can’t help but share the Good News with others.