Last Sunday as we were celebrating the closing of the Year of Mercy around the Diocese, my friend and I were talking about how we were kinda sad to see the Year of Mercy end. She turned to me and said – you know how we had the age of Enlightenment? And the age of the Industrial Revolution? Wouldn’t it be cool if people looked back and remembered this time in history as the Age of Mercy? The words struck me as somewhat prophetic. It’s been amazing to me this year to witness how so many hearts have resonated with the message of the Year of Mercy and how much life has come to fruition in response to this focus on mercy. Pope Francis has fearlessly and humbly led the way through words and actions during this Extraordinary Jubilee, and it seems that a whole new dynamic has opened between God and man. God is listening, and has inclined his heart to the people’s cry, and responded in overwhelming ways…and the people are responding again in turn. With such a fruitful time of grace – is the closing of the Year of Mercy really a closing? Or is it meant to be an opening of an entire Age of Mercy…?
In the current post election 2016 climate, I can’t help but notice this closing of the Year of Mercy is the week right after ya might say we all tripped upon the reality of our own need for mercy, as the dearth of mercy between groups of people became woefully evident. Perhaps that painful experience can be a invitation for us as individuals and as a nation to step back and examine our selves. How merciful have I been lately? What could the good Father God be telling us in the events that happened? How is He is speaking to us through the signs of the times?
And where do we start? I think we have to start with our own miserableness. I even heard one friend say (quoting a podcast) that we could stat by embracing our own “inner Hillary” and our own “inner Trump,” meaning that whatever we so vehemently decried or despised in our non-candidate, we should open our eyes to seeing that candidate’s qualities we’ve espoused to hate lurking in our own hearts. And the purpose of this would not be to excuse our candidates from responsibilities and standards. It would be to shift our attention from hating what we see in the other (the “plank” in their eye if you will) to examine our own selves (or “splinter”).
Nor would it be meant to be an exercise in exaggerated self-loathing. Looking at our own miserableness doesn’t mean falling into an “I’m worthless and hopeless” position. I think it means honesty. To quote Teresa of Avila, “Humility is walking in truth.” When we can be honest and objective about our own weakness and shortcomings, our own experience of the human tendency to fall, and at the same time open our hearts to the fact that God doesn’t love us because we’re good (or because we behave, or because we believe “correctly”, or because we’ve earned it…etc), but rather because He is good, then we can relax in His mercy and start experiencing real conversion. Because His goodness never changes!
During this Year of Mercy, that lesson of being humble and honest before my own misery has left a lasting mark. Here’s two phrases that really flipped my thinking on its head, and forever changed the way I think about mercy:
What does it mean to cope with one’s endless miserableness? It means to use my smallness in order to become more open for the riches of God, in order to open the floodgates of God’s mercy. The recognized and acknowledged flaws of my nature open up these floodgates. My helplessness and miserableness, recognized and acknowledged, is the reason that God becomes powerless and the child all powerful. – Fr Joseph Kentenich
How much that begs to be meditated upon! You mean my smallness is useful in some way? That I shouldn’t hide my limitations/sin/weaknesses in shame? (…)…. Yep. Our weaknesses open the floodgates of God’s mercy! God’s love is so great, that He becomes “powerless” before the child who opens their heart to Him. And the child in that sense wields an incredibly humbling place. I once heard it said that humility could also be described as the tension between this smallness of oneself, and the greatness one is called to in God.
Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence, or learning, and these last three have never converted anyone unless they were also kind. In short, kindness makes us Gods to each other. Yet, while it lifts us so high, it gently keeps us low. For the continual sense, which the kind heart has of its own need of kindness, keeps it humble. There are no hearts to which kindness is so indispensable, as those that are exuberantly kind themselves. – Fr Faber
For this one, I think you could switch out “mercy” for “kindness.” And again, if any person is especially merciful, generous or kind…it is not because they are superman or a saint. It’s because they know their own profound, profound need for mercy and kindness. And on the flip side, if I don’t recognize my own need for God’s mercy to flow over my miserableness, how can I give/receive mercy and kindness to my fellow man?
Pope Francis points the way for us again with releasing today a new Apostolic Letter: Misericordia et Misera (and also by his announcing today that he has extended indefinitely some of the aspects of reconciliation that were announced only for the Jubilee Year). As the letter was just released in the past 24 hours, I’m taking my time to delve into it. But I can say from the part I have read so far that Pope Francis and my friend seem to be thinking on the same track.
Now, at the conclusion of this Jubilee, it is time to look to the future and to understand how best to continue, with joy, fidelity and enthusiasm, experiencing the richness of God’s mercy. Our communities can remain alive and active in the work of the new evangelization in the measure that the “pastoral conversion” to which we are called will be shaped daily by the renewing force of mercy. Let us not limit its action; let us not sadden the Spirit, who constantly points out new paths to take in bringing to everyone the Gospel of salvation. – Misericordia et Misera
May this last day of the Year of Mercy be known as the first day in opening of an Age of Mercy. May we be more and more willing to examine our own miseries in the light and warmth of His infinite fatherly mercy. And may we each do our part to bring our selves, transformed by mercy, into dialogue and opennes to our great nation, so in need of mercy.
“Dear Blessed Mother, see to it that we experience ourselves as royal children who are both miserable and worthy of mercy, and therefore walk through life in a special way as the favorite children of God’s infinitely merciful father love.” ~Fr Joseph Kentenich