The Year of Mercy was the culmination of a spirituality which has been gathering pace and moving forward in the Church over a number of years, even as far back as the Second World War. From that point onwards, the message of Divine Mercy was spreading throughout the world, setting fire to souls and reawakening us to this ancient message of the mercy of God – a message which, to some degree, we had lost sight of.
This spirituality moved with greater speed, focus and precision over the course of the pontificates of St John Paul, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. In a recent book, Cardinal Dolan, the Archbishop of New York, referred to these three Popes respectively as “the soul, the mind and the heart of the Church”. For each one, the message of mercy has been very prominent in their writings and their messages to the Church.
Cardinal Dolan goes on to speak about mercy in the pontificate of Pope Francis, saying that his great focus on mercy, from the very beginning of his time as Supreme Pontiff, has been evident; indeed, immediately following his election and before he had even left the Sistine Chapel, the signs were already actively present that the living of mercy would be a strong focus in the days ahead. Francis has continued the work of his two immediate predecessors and the pinnacle of this has been the Jubilee of Mercy. There will come a day when the Church and the world will look back and see very clearly precisely how great a blessing this extraordinary Year has been.
Now, of course, the Jubilee of Mercy has drawn to a close along with the doors of the Sancta Porta at St Peter’s Basilica. But we need to remember that this Door is essentially a symbol; it represents the very Heart of Christ, filled with mercy to the point of overflowing, so desirous to fill each of us with that same mercy.
Unlike the Great Door, the Heart of Christ never closes; opened wide by the lance on the Cross, this Heart remains forever open to us and for us, pouring forth endless streams of graces and mercy. This Divine Mercy is like an exquisite flower; beautiful to contemplate, it’s fragrance lingering and pervading all that we are and all we do, so that we take on a reflection of It’s beauty.
And so, if we have been touched by this enormous grace of the Jubilee of Mercy – how will we take this grace forward in our lives?
There are really two aspects here; receiving mercy and being transformed by it, and then transmitting that mercy, radiating it to others so that we become mirrors of mercy.
In order for us to be touched by mercy in a real and on-going manner, we have been given a consistent and very clear message by the Holy Father – that we approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently and often.
That is why he and the Church placed such great emphasis on this Sacrament throughout the Holy Year; thank God, so many understood that message and took it to heart. Now, we need to make it a regular part of our spiritual lives. We cannot receive mercy if we do not see our need of it – and that means acknowledging our sins in the Confessional, as this Sacrament is the normal channel of mercy, the ‘Tribunal of Mercy’. The effects of this Sacrament speak for themselves, as any soul receiving it will attest.
For us to radiate mercy to others, to be mirrors of mercy, as it were, we need to be living the message of Mercy.
We need to be living lives in accord with the message of the Gospel, of which mercy is the beating heart. This does not mean we are living perfect lives already – very few are doing that! But we are continuously making the effort to improve ourselves with the grace of God. But how do we do this?
The Holy Father has repeatedly pointed us in the direction of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy; these are the living stones on the path of Mercy. To emphasise this, he himself has done as he suggests to us; he undertook his own ‘Mercy Fridays’ during the Holy Year, quietly undertaking works of charity with those in need, those facing particular difficulties, and those experiencing losses of differing kinds. He visited the sick, the elderly, the imprisoned; he welcomed the stranger; he fed the hungry. And all of this, he did with great humility, seeing in the face of every person he met, the Face of Christ.
Perhaps we could do something similar.
What talents do I have which I could use in the service of others? Can I give others my time, my compassion, my practical help in some way? Is there a voluntary group or association I could contribute to? Could I give a little more to charity or to a food bank? Is there a neighbour or family member who needs help in some way? Is there anyone with whom I need to make amends, to reconcile with, to forgive? Is there a spiritual association I could join or support in some way, one which works with people in need? And even if I can do none of these things, can I simply smile at someone, give someone a hug, hold a door open for someone? Kindness begets kindness. Love begets love. Compassion is contagious; when we receive it, we want to give it.
At the spiritual level, there is a great deal we can do, regardless of our state in life.
No matter who we are, where we are or what we do in our daily lives, still we can pray for those in need. This should not, of course, be instead of living mercy in a practical way (unless this road is not open to us for some reason), but should go hand in hand with it. All of us, every single one, can pray for the living and for the dead, can quietly and silently offer little sacrifices for souls in need – those near death, the Holy Souls, the conversion of sinners.
St Faustina offered yet another way to be spiritually merciful; to do all the duties of our state in life out of great love for the Lord and for neighbour, even the very smallest act. One day, while crocheting, Faustina asked the Lord to convert as many souls that day as she made stitches – she called it her “whole-hearted work”, meaning she made each stitch with great love of the Lord and of souls. And the Lord replied that He would do as she asked.
This may at first seem implausible – how can this help?
Well, Mercy flows from the Heart of Christ and into our own hearts; and from there, it obliges us to translate this Love we have received, into works and deeds, into acts of love in both the material and the spiritual realm, meriting grace from the Heart of Christ for us and for others. In living her daily life in this heroic and constant way, Faustina was raised to the heights of sanctity and we now honour her as a great Saint. Such was also the case with another ‘little one’, St Therese of Lisieux. She did precisely the same thing, and with precisely the same end result.
So we have at least two excellent examples – and there are many more – of the power of offering up to the Merciful Lord all that we are and all that we do, for love of Him and for souls.
Whatever our state in life, may we reflect upon and consider – with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – how best to move forward in the way of Mercy, for love of God and of souls, and ever mindful of the words of Our Lord – “Blessed are the merciful”.