Throughout the time of his visit to America, there has been a great media interest in everything he has said and done. Many will recall with great affection the moments when they were near the Pope and many more will have attended different events which took place during his time there. Needless to say, there have been innumerable images of the trip, together with the great many words written about it. Most of the events were carefully planned over a long period of time. Some, however, took place in the blink of an eye, without any forethought and with no prior knowledge that they were about to happen. For me, one such moment as this, with an accompanying image, is the one I will cherish the most.
On his way to a large planned event, the Holy Father was passing a crowd and amongst them, he saw a ten year old boy who was disabled and in a wheelchair. The boy was accompanied by his mother and by other family members. Asking his driver to stop the car, the Holy Father got out and walked over to the woman and her son, blessing the child and shaking hands with the mother. What touched me was the expression of the face of this woman, as she quietly said ‘thank you’ to the Holy Father. She could never have known that this encounter was about to take place. Although she was there in the hope of seeing the Holy Father pass by, she no doubt expected nothing more than a brief glimpse of him. And yet, Divine Providence had another plan.
I am absolutely certain that this woman’s life has been forever changed by those few moments spent with the Holy Father, by his simple act of kindness, of mercy; his action told this woman that her son was blessed and worthwhile, that he has value – and it also spoke silently and powerfully of the devotion of a mother caring for a child in the midst of the trials of life. As sure as I am that the sun will rise tomorrow, equally sure am I that in those few seconds, this woman was forever changed and transformed; such is the power of mercy.
We may sometimes think that mercy consists of the heroic, the great act; the reality – as attested to by the Saints throughout the centuries is that the simple becomes heroic when done with great love, over and over, day after day. This constancy produces true heroism, the little and every day heroism which is within the grasp of every single one of us, regardless of our station in life. If you doubt this, undertake to perform a Corporal or a Spiritual Work of Mercy every single day – you will quickly realise that this demands constant intention, repeated practice; and you will also realise that it produces good fruits, a deepening of a sense of mercy and of the need we all have for mercy.
Mercy is that unusual gift that, the more we give it away, the more we receive it. And this is nothing more than the call of the Gospel – ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy’.