“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.”
Each one of us, many times during our lives, have raised our voices and cried, “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the kind of forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. From a Christian perspective, it is the gift that God or another person offers to someone by not treating him/her in the way they deserve.
For many, this cry for mercy is a perpetual line of their daily prayers. It expresses our deepest inability to cope with the pain in our hearts or the desperate frustration with the challenges of our sinful human condition.
We all long for mercy. The tragedy is that we are not prone to offer it to others.
This past March, Pope Francis announced, to the surprise of many, a holy year. From Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Catholics throughout the world are called to celebrate a “Jubilee of Mercy.” The celebration of a jubilee originated in Judaism and it was the occasion to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.
I tend to believe that mercy is not something we should celebrate in an extraordinary way, like in a “year of jubilee”. The fact that Pope Francis feels the need for such a celebration speaks to the reality that we, as the people of God, have forgotten or relegated this grace to be given only on extraordinary circumstances.
Maybe we need to be reminded that God’s mercies are not extraordinary. The prophet Micah said: “Who is a God like you? You forgive sin and overlook the rebellion of your faithful people. You will not be angry forever, because you would rather show mercy.” (Mich. 7:18) And we are reminded that the mercies of the Lord “are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:23)
We may not be conscious of the reality that, in order to successfully live in community, we are dependent on the mutual exchange of the gift of mercy. For most people, this is something natural, at least when required by our normal misunderstandings or common offenses. Things get complicated when we are challenged to offer mercy when major offenses has been committed, or when one of the sins in our “top ten” list has been committed.
Allow me to demonstrate this with a very contemporary issue. I recently read an article by Jeanne Bishop titled, “Lord, Have Mercy” (America Magazine). Ms. Bishop works as an assistant public defender in the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender in Chicago. In the article, she articulates in a very profound way her journey from pardoning, to experiencing and offering mercy. Ms. Bishop’s sister, her unborn child and her sister’s husband were killed by David Biro. She shares how, after a long struggle, she has forgiven the killer, said his name, and even prayed for him. But she still was not certain if she wanted him to serve less than his full life sentence.
I suppose that this would be the bottom line for many of us. Doesn’t he deserve at least to be put away for the rest of his life? Some would even question why this man was not given a death sentence.
Ms. Bishop had, what I must call, an epiphany moment. She writes: “And in the very next moment, like daylight breaking into darkness, I knew something else. I’d always thought that the only thing big enough to pay for the life of my sister was a life sentence for her killer. Now I understood: The only thing big enough to equal the loss of her life was for him to be found.”
What a profound and revolutionary truth. In dealing with His children, God is not driven by revenge or a sense of satisfaction or even pleasure. At the very heart of God, there is a desire for redemption, for restoration. The psalmist clearly expresses this truth on Psalm 130:
- Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
- Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
- If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
- But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
7. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.
Full redemption is what God is all about. That redemption is experienced when God shows His unfailing and redemptive love towards us. Pope Francis said that, “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” The redemption and transformation of our hearts and souls can only be achieved by the mystery of God’s mercy and love operating in and through us.
A “Jubilee of Mercy” can be a redemptive event; it will certainly do good, not only to Catholics, but to all Christians.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7).