(See the readings for the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Feb. 20)
The shooter went into the one-room schoolhouse killing 10 young girls before turning the gun on himself. It happened on Oct. 2, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.
The violence was met with an incredible act of mercy. The day of the killings, one of the children’s grandfather said, “We must not think evil of this man.” One of the fathers said, “He had a mother and wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”
Forgiveness was the powerful response. We all have probably heard of extraordinary examples of mercy. They vividly illustrate Jesus’ command: “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
The ability to forgive in an extraordinary way is made possible when one lives a life of mercy. Mercy is something we cultivate in our will. We choose to be merciful. Like many things that involve the will, we have to practice and build up good habits in simple ways, day to day.
The seemingly smaller acts of mercy (seemingly — for the power of mercy goes well beyond what we might imagine) lead to an inner strength to forgive more weighty transgressions.
Jesus is emphatic with regard to mercy. He uses quite strong language to convey the message: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”
The Gospel passage for this Sunday’s liturgy continues, “To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?”
David, in the account from I Samuel, gives an example of extraordinary mercy. Saul, the king, is actively in pursuit of David in order to kill him. At one point David finds Saul’s camp at night and stealthily enters his tent. He has the opportunity to dispatch his pursuer but instead takes his spear. Later from opposite sides of a slope, David shows Saul his spear as a witness to mercy – and in this case loyalty.
I recently read an article on simple acts of mercy. The first recommendation was to seek mercy for oneself from God. The author quoted St. Theresa of Calcutta who once said: “We have forgotten that we belong to one another. Today, when the world is in dire need of compassion, mercy and hope, we can begin with ourselves, by going to God and asking for forgiveness. Then we can share that mercy with our family, our neighbors, and the world.”
Building on our own experience of mercy, we can more readily forgive others.
Other possible acts of mercy include forgiving someone for a particular offense. It can be a simple reflection in one’s heart identifying the person who needs forgiveness and then taking a concrete step to share mercy. Another possibility is reaching out to someone we have not spoken to in a long time whom, by way of established relationship, we should.
Jesus ties a non-judgmental attitude with mercy in the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy. In this regard mercy can be expressed, again in simple ways. Encouraging someone who struggles with doubt, engaging someone we do not know in conversation, intentionally being kind to someone who annoys us, taking time to listen to someone speaking, being kind to someone different from ourselves and doing something “insignificant” (holding a door, being kind to a cashier in the store, etc.) are all possibilities.
Mercy is at the heart of who we are as Catholics. As we walk the journey of faith we follow Jesus who is the “way, the truth and the life.” He is the one who has shown us “extraordinary mercy” on the cross. He calls us to live that mercy and, through the Spirit, empowers us to do so day by day — “Be merciful, just as your heavenly Father is merciful.”
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