The word ‘mercy’ is familiar to Catholics-of-a-certain-age, especially those of us educated by the Sisters of Mercy, but to be honest, I can get through a week, a fortnight, maybe even a month without uttering the word!
However, that’s changing, as the Year of Mercy is almost upon us. Mercy is becoming a buzz word!
Plans are in hand for the Opening of the Door of Mercy at Sacred Heart Cathedral on Sunday 13 December from 4.00pm. (See the website, December Aurora and Diocesan Update for details). As well as an opportunity to come together as community − and to launch the celebration of 150 years of diocesan life – this occasion will be a moment to set aside the busyness of the season and rejoice in the approach of Christmas – a cameo of the mercy of God.
Pope Francis’ invitation to all who desire mercy is very much an indication of the mettle of the man we have come to know through his intuitive actions and gospel-shaped wisdom. The official proclamation of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, is rich in examples of the mercy of God, drawn from both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
He executes justice for the oppressed; he gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the sojourners. He upholds the widow and the fatherless… (Ps 146, 7-9).
Pope Francis goes on to cite the gospel of Matthew which tells
the parable of the ‘ruthless servant’ who, called by his master to return a huge amount, begs him on his knees for mercy. His master cancels his debt. But he then meets a fellow servant who owes him a few cents and who in turn begs on his knees for mercy, but the first servant refuses his request and throws him into jail. When the master hears of the matter, he becomes infuriated and, summoning the first servant back to him, says, “Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (Mt 18:33). Jesus concludes, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Mt 18:35).
The overarching message of Misericaordiae Vultus is that “we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us”.
It’s hard to imagine a more relevant and topical message for the world. The Paris attacks are the current lens through which the world looks at terrorism, specifically the IS, but there have been earlier lenses and sadly, in time, there will be others.
Andrew Hamilton sj writes incisively in Eureka Street of the “three values that came to define the French Revolution, and so modern France…Freedom, Equality and Fraternity”. Australians are used to the rhetoric of border protection, the ‘war on terror’, ‘us and them,’ and security as the ‘be all and end all’. Hamilton concludes, “the defining value to be protected in our response [to terror threats and attacks] is fraternity. It will be expressed in solidarity not only with the victims of terror and with the French people in their trial, but also with the Muslim communities both in France and in Australia.”
Is there not room for mercy here?
The local Muslim community is looking to build a mosque at Buchanan, and facing ill-informed objections. Is there not room for mercy here?
While Syrian refugees are ‘on the way’, as it were, asylum seekers continue to languish on Nauru and Christmas Island with no prospect of being welcomed to Australia. Is there not room for mercy here?
Just under half a million Australian women reported that they had experienced physical or sexual violence or sexual assault in the past 12 months. (Department of Families, Housing and Community Affairs Fact Sheet 2 Women's Safety www.domesticviolence.com.au) Is there not room for mercy here?
On any given night in Australia, 1 in 200 people are homeless. In 2011-2012, 229,247 people received support from specialist homelessness services with an average of 19,128 people accommodated each night. (www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au). Is there not room for mercy here?
And closer to home (and most of us have a home to retreat to) there is the colleague who is too challenging – the family member who needs extra support – the neighbour who makes us nervous – the demands each of us places on ourselves to achieve more, do more, have more…
Is there not room for mercy here?
In Pope Francis’ words:
The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it.
You can read Misericordiae Vultus here.
You are invited to the diocesan opening of the Year of Mercy here.