“..We are called to be witnesses of God’s merciful love before the world. During this Jubilee Year, may we turn once more to Jesus, for He is the Door leading to salvation and new life. May the Divine Mercy which we have received pass from our hearts to our hands, and find expression in our practice of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.” (Pope Francis, General Audience, 10th August 2016)
Throughout this Year of Mercy, the Holy Father has given weekly audiences in which he focusses on God’s mercy. And on many occasions, he has spoken of the need to make mercy real – to practice it, to give it away as freely as we have received it.
It is only in this way that we become ‘merciful like the Father’ – which, of course, is the theme of the Year of Mercy.
Mercy begets mercy – at least, it does when we are properly disposed; in acknowledging our own personal need of mercy, how then can we possibly refuse mercy to others? To do so is in conflict with the very precepts of the Gospel and, particularly, with the parables on mercy. In being merciful, we reflect the very mercy of God. In making this our lived experience, others are drawn to that mercy – it is a very powerful witness to the Merciful Lord.
So how do we reflect that mercy and make it a real thing in our lives?
The Holy Father points us toward the Works of Mercy, corporal and spiritual. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this on the Eorks of Mercy –
“The Works of Mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently.
The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity; it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”
Each of these is a simple path for us to walk, where we encounter the living Lord in others around us, seeing and responding to their needs in the physical and spiritual realms. And in doing so, we are reminded of the words of the Lord – ‘whatever you do to the least of these, you do to Me’ (Mt.25:40).
Mercy is not meant to stop with us – it is meant to be passed on. The Works of Mercy are ways of doing so, and these ways are open to each of us. Even the person confined to bed through ill health can walk the path of mercy, particularly by means of prayer for the living and for the dead.
Of course, all of this presupposes that we do as the Holy Father suggests in the first place – that we ‘turn once more to Jesus, for He is the Door leading to salvation and new life’. And this, we will not do unless we first of all perceive our own need for mercy, that we acknowledge that we are sinners who need the grace of God to transform us and heal us, to forgive us and enable us to move forward so that we are able to become mirrors of His own limitless mercy. The foundations of this are humility and trust – humility in seeing what we truly are before His majesty and holiness; and the trust that God does not refuse us His mercy.
As this Holy Year of Mercy continues, may we all make a concerted effort to undertake works of mercy so this divine mercy we receive, we will pass on to others, and in this way we may become ‘merciful like the Father’.