The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is coming to a close. Declared by Pope Francis on March 13, 2015, this period dedicated to forgiveness of sins and universal pardon started on Dec. 8, 2015 (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and will end on Nov. 30 of this year (the Feast of Christ the King). Why Extraordinary? Jubilees normally only occur every 25 years with holy doors—through which pilgrims can pass in conjunction with other actions to gain a plenary indulgence—in Rome, but Francis decided that a year of mercy was needed now with holy doors available worldwide.
Boy, was he right.
In a liturgical year containing what seem to be more than usual amounts of terror (Nice), disease (Zika), bloodshed (Aleppo), repression (Turkey), hatred (the Pulse shooting), environmental stress (atmospheric CO2 amounts over 400 ppm permanently), natural disaster (Hurricane Matthew and the Italian earthquakes), confusion (Brexit) and political uproar and upset (need I list an example?), our nation and our world need nothing so much as mercy.
I imagine you scoffing right now, mentally or physically.
“Surely,” you say, with just a hint of exasperation, “we’ve had enough of this mushy mercy gobbledygook. It hasn’t accomplished anything: it is simply complaint or sentimentality without action. We need to get down to brass tacks and shut up or stop the people making everything worse in [insert field here] from having or exercising power so that we can make progress in [insert same field here].”
First, I realize you probably don’t talk like that; my apologies. Second, don’t call me Shirley (couldn’t resist, sorry!). Third, I feel the need to address your conception of mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love and to, I hope, change, expand, and improve them.
These traits, so often viewed as though they require a view of the world through rose-tinted glasses, do truly make one weak, vulnerable, and hopeful. They do not, however, cut one off from reality, prevent concrete achievement, or make one a doormat on which anyone can step. In fact, the opposite is true. Mercy, forgiveness, compassion, and love are empowering and liberating.
In his bull Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), Pope Francis quoted an ancient liturgical prayer: “O God, who reveal your power above all in your mercy and forgiveness….” That single line professes belief in a God who is not powerful in the ability to force people or other creatures into certain actions but rather in a constant presence with, patience for, and love of creation. Huh.
Most people, including, sadly, many of my fellow Christians, take the former rather than the latter view. God is above all a Judge or a Tyrant, wielding power arbitrarily over the universe and the fate of its inhabitants. Even for those who do not have faith (trust) in the existence of God, our society proclaims a religion of power found in material wealth, cult-like influence, and sheer force.
Who wins in this view of power? Those who have the stated traits and use them. You know who they are: in your town, your state, your nation, and the world. Who loses? Most people, the materially poor and socially marginalized and misunderstood, especially. Those of us who are rather well-off in terms of money and other privileges also suffer, tricked into thinking that we need to have more money, more prestige, more “likes,” more things, and more influence to have any real worth as human persons.
This view has fueled our exploitation of the environment, our disparagement of the poor, our persecution of the alien, and our near-absolute refusal to even hear an opinion different from ours, let alone open ourselves to being changed by one. We do not like to listen to people different than ourselves (newsflash: we’re all different), in particular those who have beliefs or lifestyles that directly clash with ours. It dismays and disturbs me to hear people say or see them write online that they will have nothing to do with certain people of whatever beliefs or actions.
We should not surround ourselves with toxic behavior or people who seek to harm us physically or mentally. We should not condone or remain silent about words, actions, or ideologies of manipulation, discrimination, or hatred. At the same time, we should not imitate such behaviors in our own lives by viewing and treating those different from us, even those who exploit and demean others, as subhuman or undeserving of love.
All people need love. In the belief system in which I participate, all people are made in love; in fact, all creation finds its origin, continuation, and fulfillment in love (God). When we attack, discriminate, belittle, ignore, or even just tune out, we deny love to another, deny the deepest human need, and we disfigure not only that other but also ourselves and the world. In refusing to accept the challenge of compassion, we calcify our hearts, make them less receptive toward life, and keep the world from being as good as it could and can be.
I won’t sugarcoat it: having mercy on others will expose your heart to injury, grief, loss, and betrayal. You’re going to suffer. But it will also make your heart, make you, more human and allow you to accept the mercy that will save you. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
We cannot shut each other out, now more than ever in the past year. Just because the Year of Mercy is ending does not mean the importance or existence of mercy is ending, too; it never ends. We must forgive one another: not forgive and forget, not live and let live, but forgive. We cannot pretend evil actions never happened but must still love those who do them and struggle with them for their (and our) growth. We cannot simply let individual or systemic hatred continue but must continually strive against both forms, recognizing our privileges, joining in solidarity with the oppressed, and using our privileges and gifts to empower and liberate all people.
My duty as a Catholic Christian is to love God and to love my neighbor (i.e., everyone). My salvation—and, I believe, the salvation of us all—is tied up in others, in loving service in this world; all these ties that bind ultimately lead to the baffling, glorious knot of relationship and unity who is the Trinity.
Call me a weakling. Call me idiotic. Call me naïve. Call me a fool. I will forgive you and do my best to love you as a child of God, and I will pray and work for you to experience, accept, and find your flourishing in the endless, life-giving love God offers to us and invites us to show in our lives. I am indeed a fool; I am a fool for Christ (1 Cor 4:10).
Forgive me: I’ve gone on for long enough. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Forgive, and let live.