by Cullen Schippe
In my life, the most searing punishment I have ever received was a look of disappointment in my father’s eyes. My father was for me the quintessential “just man.” So no matter how many times I experienced that look from my dad, I never for a moment doubted his constant care, affection, love, and (of course) forgiveness.
As the Jubilee of Mercy begins, my father provides me with a personal catechesis on how to show mercy. His devotion to faith and to family was anchored in a realization that he was one of the “little ones”—deserving of nothing, but rich beyond measure because he had received so much. In death—a horrible and painful death from cancer—Dad embraced the future and demonstrated to me how to accept the loving mercy of God and to witness that mercy to others. Yes, Dad was a just and merciful man.
The brush strokes of contemporary society, however, do not paint a vivid picture of either justice or mercy. Just a few moments of television news, radio talk shows, the morning paper, or online blogs demonstrate more than anything else an “us versus them” mentality. In our current culture, mercy is a weasel word—a sign of weakness.
Our society treasures swagger, confrontation, and rugged individualism. We are identified by which groups we belong to, and our membership in those groups is often judged more by those we exclude than by those we welcome.
Sadly, even groups labeled “Christian” often avoid the radical nature of Jesus’ message. We often miss the glistening vein of mercy that is embedded in the precious ore of God’s good news.
Or as Pope Francis bluntly put it: “I think we too are the people who, on the one hand, want to listen to Jesus, but on the other hand, at times, like to find a stick to beat others with, to condemn others. And Jesus has this message for us: mercy. I think—and I say it with humility—that this is the Lord’s most powerful message: mercy” (homily on March 17, 2013).
The mystery of Gospel mercy is revealed in very human stories of prodigal sons, public sinners, civil outcasts, the poor, the disenfranchised, laborers, fishermen, the frightened, the sick, the lonely, the imprisoned, and the hungry. The stories all come together in Jesus’ echo of the prophet Hosea, “Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
During this year, there will be many lessons on divine mercy, but it is important for all of us to be a living catechesis on mercy—to give personal witness to mercy. Here are three very practical actions to help us make sure that in our ministry we are providing that witness.
Let’s watch our language. How do we describe other people? Does the way we talk about others reveal inclusion or exclusion? Do we use our language to condemn others? Those we teach will take a great lesson from our careful and merciful speech.
Let’s be patient. God’s mercy is shown in his patience. God is the merciful father who waits for us, understands us, and does not tire of forgiving us. Do we show that same courtesy to those we teach?
Let’s be welcoming. I was told by a master teacher that almost all discipline problems in the classroom could be resolved by the teacher’s welcoming attitude. Our ability to sincerely and freely welcome those we teach can and will open their minds and hearts to the lessons we provide.
The Jubilee year is a great gift because if we learn the lesson of mercy, we could be on our way to renewing the face of the earth.
As Pope Francis has said, “God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation, and make justice and peace flourish” (Urbi et Orbi Message, Easter 2013).
As I learned from my father—the best way to celebrate mercy is by offering tender mercy to others.
Cullen Schippe has been in Catholic publishing for well over 40 years and currently serves as Pflaum publisher. Email Cullen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, April 2016.
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