February 02, 2016

Becoming a Clearer and More Daring Witness to God’s Abundant Mercy

In Misericordiae Vultus, the Bull proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis writes, 'it is my burning desire that, during the Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy'. And Catherine McAuley, in 'The Spirit of the Institute', reminds us that '…all these offices of Mercy, spiritual and corporal,…constitute the business of our lives'.

These two exhortations have turned my thoughts more and more to these Works and to the question of what they might be asking of me/of us as we enter the Year of Jubilee. How, I ask myself, might we engage these Works in ways that are deeper, more creative, more challenging?

I recently watched a movie called 'Little Boy'. It’s the story of an seven year old whose father goes off to fight in World War II, leaving him devastated and fearful. He talks about his anxiety with the parish priest who produces a venerable looking book, takes from it a well-worn piece of paper and offers the lad a 'secret list' which, he says, if carried out, is sure to bring his father home safely. The items on the list are these:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Visit the sick
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead.

But even this isn’t enough, says the priest. In order for the list to really work, the boy must add one more task – he must befriend the Japanese man who lives on the edge of town. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, this man is ostracized and threatened by the townspeople. The child finds ways to engage the Works of Mercy but continually backs away from the final item. Gradually, however, he becomes convinced that the hardest task, the one that will require the most of him, is essential to his father’s safe return and so he very tentatively reaches out to his unwelcome neighbor. Though the relationship begins with resistance on both sides, it gradually grows into one that is transformative for both.


Seeing 'Little Boy' has taken me back to my earlier questions about how to make the Works of Mercy more meaningful during the Jubilee of Mercy – about living them more authentically. Now I’m asking myself 'What is the work of mercy, beyond the traditional list, that is calling to me? What merciful act is waiting specifically for me to do it? What transformative practice can I embrace in this blessed year?'

All across the Mercy world, we will be blessing Jubilee Doors as part of our welcome to this time of grace. As I cross the threshold of the Holy Door, I intend to ask for the insight and courage I need to become a clearer and more daring witness to God’s abundant Mercy.

Messages to: Sheila Carney rsm

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