I noticed a curious phenomenon shortly after the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy began in December. Virtually every day, in something I read or heard, the word “mercy” appeared. The reference was purposeful at times, something written or said relating to the Jubilee Year. Other times it was in a selection from Scriptures that seemed noticeable because the word was prominently on my mind.
More often than not, the word just seemed to show up. It’s like God wanted to make sure nobody missed the opportunity Pope Francis offered to all of us. So as the Church heads into the home stretch of the Jubilee Year, I’ve started looking into the spiritual mirror to see what my soul has learned.
Have we been paying attention?
In a 2013 homily, the Holy Father said: “Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think — and I say it with humility — that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy.”
It’s a message that often registers only in hindsight.
I remember one beautiful spring evening many years ago. I was standing on the back deck at our first house and grilling some cut of beef for dinner. I had been working long hours; it was a rare evening at home for me. I should have been enjoying some down time, but … I had been struggling with my absence from a lot of things involving Donna and our four children. For a moment, I looked through the glass patio door into the kitchen. There, Donna was preparing some other part of the meal. Music was playing; the kids, surrounding the table, were laughing and just being kids.
In a way, I still felt separated, guilty. But I looked more deeply at the scene and saw beauty, joy and a certain holiness in my family.
When I recall that moment, I can hear God say, “They loved you. They still do.” And I know His mercy.
I’ve always thought of mercy as one of God’s attributes that we can’t completely understand and certainly can’t duplicate among humans. God is love, but He is more than that. He is perfect and complete love. And out of that love flows mercy. Imperfect, fallen creatures that we are, we don’t deserve to be the focus of perfect love — yet we are. That is perfect mercy.
In trying to wrap my spirit around that, I found enlightenment in “Misericordiae Vultus,” the Papal Bull in which Pope Francis declared the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. “Misericordiae” is Latin for mercy, derived from the Latin words misereri (to pity) and cor (heart). Think about that. In God showing mercy toward someone, the Latin could be translated to say “His heart pities you” or “His heart goes out to you.”
God’s heart goes out to you.
Still, if in this Jubilee Year we have learned only to appreciate God’s mercy, then we have missed most of the purpose. Consider the thousands of Doors of Mercy scattered throughout the globe. Every diocese has had an opportunity to open an official Door of Mercy, so people in that region have been able make a pilgrimage, a journey that includes physically walking through the door and thus walking more closely with God and “discovering moments of grace and spiritual renewal,” the pope stated. “The Holy Door will become a Door of Mercy through which anyone who enters will experience the love of God who consoles, pardons and instills hope.”
We have several in our archdiocese. The only one through which I have ambled is the front door of the chapel at the Carmelite Monastery on Clayton Road, which I visit a few times each month. Every time I prepare to enter the chapel, I look at the decorative doors and recall that Christ told us there is one way for God to shower us with His mercy.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus said, “for they shall receive mercy.”
We need to hold out our hearts to others. We need to console, to pardon, to instill hope. For the Year of Mercy to have any real impact, each of us should become a Door of Mercy.