On Friday, April 10, while celebrating a penitential service in Saint Peter’s Basilica, Pope Francis announced an extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy, saying he wants to make it evident that the Church’s mission is to be a witness of compassion.
“Let us not forget that God forgives and God forgives always,” Francis said. “Let us never tire of asking for forgiveness.”
The Pope continued, “I am convinced that the whole Church — which has much need to receive mercy, because we are sinners — will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God, with which we are all called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.” – Pope Francis Announces an Extraordinary Holy Year of Mercy
When Pope Francis announced last April that this was to be a Year of Mercy, I took a lot of time to consider what mercy looked like in my own life, and how to best express that mercy.
During this time mercy took several forms – giving, patience, rendering aid, etc. All of this in the name of compassion and mercy, yet no matter how much I did, it was not enough.
It isn’t that I was trying to match the mercy of God; as if somehow I could perform an act of mercy so great as to make even the mountain of mercy he has poured upon my life over the years. No. The truth is in my heart there was a weight demanding that I look upon my past, especially upon those who had heaped upon my head great evil, and see them through the perspective of the crucifix.
Mercy, in my life, was to be about looking back through the eyes of Christ, broken and nailed to a tree. Ever so slowly -struggling through my own damned stubborn pride- I looked back. At first it hurt, but then I opened my eyes. I could see things -people- as they were: broken.
Over time the bitterness faded and was replaced with pity. With much hesitation I prayed for my enemies and found for them compassion. I found it difficult to any longer need affirmation or vindication from these broken, lost, and insecure people.
I learned that the greatest act of mercy I could perform -by the grace and mercy of God- was to forgive myself, release them of all debt, and simply let go of all the hurt into the hands of God.
This does not mean that I do not see them for what they are – wounded and feral wolves- and go running back into their jaws; it only means (to paraphrase poet Buddy Wakefield) that I let go of all hope for a better past, and allow them safe passage through my mind.
In doing this I have found much mercy for myself, namely, freedom. Freedom from the debts of hurt and pain. Freedom from the belief that somehow I will never be fully healed until they offer up the apologies due. Freedom to move forward, caring for myself, caring for my family, and doing what I believe is right.
Thanks be to God.