Throughout his letter announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy in April 2015, Pope Francis repeatedly emphasized his point that mercy is a chief characteristic of God; a key aspect in the ministry of Jesus; and a central foundation in the mission of the Church: “The Lord asks us above all not to judge and not to condemn” and “to be instruments of mercy” (The Face of Mercy, 14).
The Holy Father went on to identify the season of Lent as “a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy”. This is a very good time for us to “rediscover the merciful face of the Father” he wrote (Face of Mercy, 17).
Having now entered the Lenten season in the midst of this Jubilee Year we have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about God’s mercy and to experience that mercy firsthand.
Mercy has two basic meanings: 1) Mercy is a decision to show forgiveness and compassion to someone in need on one hand. The story of the Good Samaritan illustrates this meaning very well expressing kindness, generosity and love in action.
2) Mercy is also the decision to pardon someone who is guilty. This is mercy in the form of forgiveness. Jesus’ forgiveness of Peter for denying that he knew Jesus is one illustration of this form of mercy. Mercy here is shown when someone overlooks an offense and offers peace to the wrongdoer instead of looking for punishment and vengeance.
Our Catholic tradition has identified fourteen works of mercy that illustrate the kind of caring, compassion and solidarity identified in the first meaning. These are the seven Corporal Works of Mercy which involves reaching out to others who are suffering in their physical needs. They include: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and burying the dead. As well as the Corporal Works of Mercy we also have seven Spiritual Works of Mercy, which are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbours in the their spiritual needs. These include: to instruct the ignorant; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offenses willingly; to comfort the afflicted; and to pray for the living and the dead.
Perhaps during this Lenten season in this Jubilee Year of Mercy as individuals and families we can choose to practice one or two of these on a regular basis extending to others the mercy that God, our Father, extends to each one of us. We as people of hope have so much to be thankful for as we experience the mercy of God in our own lives. We should in turn offer that same experience to others or lead them to experience this special gift on their own.
May the Lord bless each of us in a special way as we extend his mercy to others and experience his mercy ourselves on our Lenten journey.
Mary Anne Penner