In the papal bull “Misericordiae Vultus” (“The Face of Mercy”), announcing and implementing the Holy Year of Mercy, Pope Francis expressed the hope that on Nov. 20, 2016, when the Holy Year closes we will be so “steeped in mercy” that we can bring “the goodness and tenderness of God” to every man and woman so that they will know that God is with them (“Misericordiae Vultus,” No. 5).
Pope Francis wrote that he declared the Jubilee Year so that we would spend time contemplating and practicing “the mystery of mercy” so that we would become “more effective” signs of the Father’s love (Nos. 2-3).
It is important to remember, however, that the Year of Mercy is not a “one and done” event: We’ve focused on mercy for a year and now we are ready to move on to the next new theme.
Instead, the Year of Mercy was declared to help us to understand just how essential God’s mercy is to the Christian faith, and how living a life of mercy is essential to living that faith. The Year of Mercy was set aside as a period of intense training intended to shape how we will live the rest of our lives.
The pope offered suggestions for things that we could do to make the most of the Year of Mercy. These same ideas can help us continue to focus on God’s mercy once the Holy Year has ended.
The first suggestion is to continue to reflect on God’s merciful love for us. Pope Francis urges us to “contemplate the mystery of mercy” as a “wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Our salvation depends on it” (No. 2). To practice contemplation, sit with an icon of Jesus (“the face of the Father’s mercy”) and think about the many ways God shows mercy for us, collectively and individually.
How have you been blessed by God’s abundant forgiveness and love? How does this shape you as a person and how you respond to others?
Second, make mercy your “default” position. Try to understand others first through the eyes of mercy. Instead of judging people for their faults and failings, recognize them as people in need of mercy. This is especially true for those “living on the outermost fringes of society.”
During the Year of Mercy we practiced healing others with the “oil of consolation.” Now we must continue to show mercy, solidarity and “vigilant care” for those in need: “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!” (No. 15).
To do this we must practice patience and establish an attitude of gratitude. Certainly we will need to focus on living the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, reading Scripture, making pilgrimages to holy places and frequently accessing the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. Only then might mercy become a way of life for us.
Daniel S. Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, Kentucky.