This reflection draws from the wisdom of St. Michael’s various adult faith groups and gatherings during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Here we are in the Easter season of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. From the moment that Pope Francis announced the Jubilee, we knew that mercy would be a key theme for our various adult faith formation gatherings and groups this year at St. Michael’s. Now might be a good time to take stock of what we have learned about mercy so far this year and how we have explored its meaning in our lives. Indeed, Easter is also a good time to consider how we put mercy into action as a Resurrection people, anointed in baptism by the same Spirit that drove Jesus in his life of mercy. For surely mercy is not limited to the Lenten season, but in fact is at the center of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in all seasons.
For many of us, this Jubilee Year has been an opportunity to be “re-introduced” to mercy, benefiting not only from Pope Francis’ focus on mercy, but also the importance of mercy to his predecessors: St. John XXIII, Blessed Paul VI, St. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI. Building on their ministries, Pope Francis declares that, “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” and that mercy is God’s “identity card.” Just as importantly, Francis draws on his own experience as a pastor in Argentina, in touch with how broken ordinary people often feel, reminding us that mercy is God always opening his heart to us and desiring our healing. Likewise, Francis is in touch with our central biblical stories in declaring that mercy is God’s faithfulness to his own love for us, even when we are not faithful. Finally, the pope challenges us in this Year of Mercy, and beyond, to go “out of ourselves” and be mercy for one another and for those most broken in society.
Over the past few months, St. Michael’s has welcomed several speakers who have unpacked various dimensions of mercy. Additionally, several our small faith groups have taken time to explore mercy and how it relates to the lives of each group’s participants. Some of these speakers and groups have included:
- Bill Miller, former President of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership, who connected the Year of Mercy to our call to be “24/7 Christians” in the ordinary and the extraordinary of our lives – and the small faith groups that continued this discussion by reading through Christine Fletcher’s book, 24/7 Christian, this Fall
- Our pastor, Father Don King, who reflected with the men of our parish on what it means to be “Men of Mercy and the Spirit,” at our January Men’s Retreat
- Fr. Shawn Conoboy (Pastor, Christ the Good Shepherd, Campbell), Diana Hancharenko (Pastoral Associate, St. Angela Merici, Youngstown, and Christ, the Good Shepherd, Campbell), and Deacon Chris Germak (Little Flower, Canton), who reflected on mercy at our monthly Spirits and Spirituality gatherings for young adults, those in their 20’s and 30’s. Gathering at the Canton Brewing Company and other area restaurants, our community includes young adults from St. Michael’s, St. Anthony/All Saints, Little Flower, St. Paul’s, and throughout Stark and Summit Counties. (Find us on Facebook)
- Our Women’s Bible Study, which explored the centrality of mercy in the Bible this Fall, inspired by Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s book Mercy: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics.
- Our Women’s Book Study, which explored the spiritual and corporal works of mercy during Lent, using Bill Huebsch’s book, Be Merciful (which we will also draw on for these reflections)
- James McKarns, Miguel Chavez, and Sr. Carolyn Capuano, HM, who led our Lenten Mission on experiencing and living God’s mercy
Awakened to Mercy in Real Lives
Many parishioners were encouraged by author and speaker, Fr. James McKarns, as he “made the case for mercy” during the first evening of our Lenten Mission. Mercy, Fr. McKarns noted, does not ignore justice or right and wrong. Mercy is not the same as permissiveness. But God’s mercy does take into account the circumstances of actual life. God meets us in our actual lives, in the midst of our weakness, loving us even in the midst of brokenness and sin. God takes us seriously – it is in our very lives (and not some romantic ideal) that God actually works on us. Likewise, having experienced God’s mercy and eagerness to enter into the circumstances of our lives, we too might find ourselves eager to enter into the lives of the others, to care for the other, even at great sacrifice.
At our Lenten mission and at several faith groups, participants noted that this eagerness to enter into the lives of others points to mercy as a deeply human experience, usually involving a feeling, a stirring of compassion or empathy. Indeed, even the words we use to describe mercy suggest feeling: mercy as miseri-cordia (in Latin: opening one’s heart to the misery, pain, wretchedness of another), or compassion (from the Latin compassio – entering into the pain of another).
Awakened to Mercy as We Seek our Deepest Purpose in Life
In the second evening of our Lenten Mission, Miguel Chavez, Director of Campus Ministry at Walsh University, reminded us that mercy not only draws us out of ourselves towards others, but into our deepest purpose. Mercy is the purest reflection of God in human life: mercy is relational, as close as a mother is to a child in her womb. (Indeed, Chavez noted that, in Hebrew, mercy connotes a mother’s womb). In living mercy, we are living the life of God, whose love is as high as the heavens above the earth (Psalm 103). But often we are afraid to live this divine life, thinking ourselves too little and, with the psalmist, God’s thoughts far beyond our thoughts. Moreover, surely the world’s crises can never be mended through the smallness of our acts of mercy. And yet, the example of Mary and the saints show us that God always calls the lowly and that, as baptized people given the light of Christ, even our small flicker of light immediately breaks the world’s darkness.
One of our small faith groups reflected on a similar point: that usually our works of mercy seem small – being kind to colleagues at work, supporting those who are sick in small ways, caring for our family with love. And yet, when we begin to reflect on many of our small acts of mercy, we start to see a pattern that reveals our deepest selves, “what God put me on earth to do.” In ways that may seem small, we are indeed living the life of God, as Miguel Chavez suggests. And this is true, one participant noted, even when we don’t see the “results,” for surely God’s mercy, which “endures forever” (Psalm 136), also involves enduring patience – on God’s part and ours! To recognize that all of our small acts of mercy are woven into God’s great merciful love gives deep purpose to our lives and is truly, as our young adult Spirits and Spirituality community discovered together, a “reason to party!” (That insight came after a talk on “Mardi Gras and Mercy” by Fr. Shawn Conoboy and Diana Hancharenko – but is no less true in this Easter/Pentecost time, where we can “party” in what the Spirit is doing through us!)
Awakened to Living Mercy in our Community
Finally, on the third evening of our Lenten Mission, Sr. Carolyn Capuano, HM, Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Mercy Medical Center, helped us explore how we live mercy locally, right here in Stark County. She recounted how the founders of Mercy Medical Center linked mercy to attentiveness when they asked, “how can we pass by people in our own community in need of mercy?” As author Bill Huebsch notes in Be Merciful, Catholic Christians have long sought to live mercy both individually and institutionally, through our network of Catholic hospitals, relief agencies, and other organizations. And yet, we often fall short of this attentiveness, turning away when we see those in need of mercy.
In this year of mercy, and especially as we move through Easter, Pentecost, and the rest of the liturgical year, Pope Francis has asked us to embrace what it means to be a Spirit-driven church of mercy. One way to do this is to remember and re-embrace the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (Corporal: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned – and the homebound who sometimes feel imprisoned, and bury the dead; Spiritual: counsel the doubtful, instruct the people of God, console sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, pray for the living and the dead).
In the Coming Months
Each month this year, the Diocese of Youngstown features one or more of these works of mercy, with a reflection that appears in our parish bulletin and is also available online.
In reflecting on mercy throughout the year, one challenge is make sure that we connect it with all aspects of our faith, including the various other topics we are exploring in our faith groups (e.g. Grace, Prayer, individual books of the Bible, and Bishop Robert Barron’s fine film series Catholicism). Indeed, mercy is central to all these topics, because it is central to our faith.
A more important challenge may be to reflect on how we are already living mercy, and how we are being called deeper in to this life of mercy, especially through the works of mercy. To ask this question is to connect our adult faith formation learning with our adult faith living of discipleship. For example, our parish community lives the works of mercy through groups like our Social Concerns Committee, Hope Ministry during times of funerals and loss, ministries to those in nursing homes, hospitals, and homebound, and the service efforts of the Knights of Columbus, Women’s Club, and young adult Spirits and Spirituality group. Where might God’s mercy be leading us in the future?
Online Resources on Mercy (General):
- Diocese of Youngstown Year of Mercy Page: Includes monthly reflections on one or more work of mercy, throughout the coming year
- Little Rock Scripture Study’s Biblical Year of Mercy: With monthly columns throughout the coming year
- St. Michael’s 24/7 Christian Resources Page (from Fall 2015)
Jubilee Year of Mercy Videos from Catholic News Service:
- Pope Francis’ Jubilee Explained
- What is a Holy Door?
- Pope Francis Opens Holy Door
- Pope Francis: Mercy Unites Christians
- Pope Francis: We All Need Mercy
- Pope Francis: Do Works of Mercy!
Catholic Relief Services “Mercy is…” Video Series:
Books on Mercy:
- Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy (Random House, 2016) – An Interview and Pope Francis’ letter introducing the Year of Mercy
- Pope Francis, The Church of Mercy (Loyola Press, 2016) – A collection of the pope’s homilies and other talks
- Official Year of Mercy Book Series: 8 books on mercy developed by the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, and available through Our Sunday Vistor
- Bill Huebsch, Be Merciful: Reflections on the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy (Twenty-Third Publications, 2015) – used by our Women’s Book Study
- Mitch Pacwa, SJ, Mercy: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015) – used by our Women’s Bible Study
- Kerry Weber, Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job (Loyola Press, 2014) – a fun account of a young adult’s efforts to live the works of mercy
- Cardinal Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life (Paulist Press, 2014) – a more challenging, and longer, theological book that influenced Pope Francis
- Christine Fletcher, 24/7 Christian (Liturgical Press, 2015) – used by our faith groups in Fall 2015. Online resources, created for these groups but open to all, also available
Text: Copyright © 2016 Justin Huyck. All rights reserved.
- Jubilee Year of Mercy Official Logo, from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization
- Photo of Father James McKarns from Mary Joseph
- Photo of Miguel Chavez from Walsh University
- Photo of Spirits and Spirituality Gathering from Justin Huyck
- Photo of Mercy Medical Center from https://www.cantonmercy.org/history