Pope Francis has declared next year (from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2015 through the feast of Christ the King on November 20, 2016) to be an Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. The Holy Father said “I am convinced that the whole church – that has much need to receive mercy because we are sinners – will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”
Mercy is absolutely central to who we are as Christians. It is what Jesus merited for us upon the cross. It is also commanded of us. That second sense of mercy is often poorly understood. I will get to that, but first let’s review God’s mercy.
We have all sinned against God and the Body of Christ, the Church.
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
If we say, “We are without sin,” we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
This is gravely serious and in justice, our rebellion deserves eternal separation from God for it.
For the wages of sin is death
It is through God’s superabundant mercy that we live. Through that same mercy, we may remain in His fellowship by repentance. The judgment that we deserve for our sins is set aside if we, with contrite hearts and will to amend our lives, only ask for His forgiveness. That is God’s amazing mercy.
As God shows us mercy through His love for us, we too are called to do likewise with others. It is compassion for others motivated by love. Saint Pope John Paul II wrote in his Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy) encyclical that “Mercy is love’s second name” and is “the greatest attribute of God.”
Such love demands action. Let me offer an example. Imagine that we are on a bridge, near a person preparing to jump over the rail and end his life. What do we do?
We might back away, fearful that we could be accused of pushing him. It might occur to us that he has his reasons and after all, who are we to judge? We don’t want to be intolerant or force our religious views (about suicide) on someone else. Then there is the risk to our own safety should we get too close and get pulled along. If we are able to pull him to safety, he may hate us for our unwelcomed interference. Maybe it is best to “not get involved.”
None of that reflects compassion and true love for this person. If we love him as we are called to, we do get involved as best we are able even if it might not turn out so well for us.
While we may not witness a situation like this, we are called to action in helping those who suffer including the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned. We are also called to instruct and advise (CCC 2447) those committing spiritual suicide. Those who denounce God, have sex outside marriage (including adultery and all same sex physical relationships), support abortion and all other sinful acts as they are grave, self-inflicted harm.
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.
If we act out of love to help our brothers and sisters in these circumstances then we are showing them mercy. Such actions may never be self-righteous, preachy or condemning but show the love of Christ through us reflecting only what is best for the other – even when they themselves think otherwise and may condemn us for it.
Sometimes we see people throw our Lord’s commandments “out the window.” They rationalize and refuse to get involved. Worse, they may invent convenient and comfortable theology on the spot (“if there is a truly loving God…”). Often their idea of “mercy” is simply unbridled tolerance. That is no virtue, far from it.
To be clear: “accepting” / “tolerating” sinful action in the name of “mercy” is exactly the opposite of love and actual mercy. Actual mercy leads others to truth, to God and to salvation. It builds the kingdom of heaven, not reinforces the “wisdom” of the world.
Not every situation that presents itself is open to our help. Indeed, sometimes even planting a small mustard seed can not be reasonably achieved. We must use good judgment, wisely choosing where and how to help. If however we find our good judgment always leads to never getting involved, we may wish to reconsider our motivations.
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves.
But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans.
When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”