This is a special year in our Church, as Pope Francis declared an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy from Dec. 8, 2015, through Nov. 20, 2016. With this proclamation, he also announced a motto: “Merciful like the Father.”
In “Misericordiae Vultus,” Pope Francis’ Bull of Indiction announcing the Year of Mercy, he described mercy in this way – “Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness” (Misericordiae Vultus, 2).
Mercy is patient. Mercy is kind. Mercy forgives wrongs and offers compassion. Mercy is empathetic, and mercy is charitable. Mercy sounds like love because mercy and love are intertwined. Without love, there is no mercy.
As imperfect humans, we all are recipients of God’s endless loving mercy. Despite our failures, God shows us a father’s love through constant compassion and endless blessings. Our God is a God of second chances, and despite all, he patiently forgives and generously gives. God requires nothing in return; he only asks for our love.
For many of us, our first experience of mercy is through our parents, our first and most important educators. Our parents teach us mercy, and through mercy, they show us love. As infants, they care for us despite our vulnerability and inability to give anything in return. As we mature, they forgive us time and time again and continue to welcome us back, despite our mistakes and flaws.
As children enter school, they reach an age where they are able to give more to those around them. They learn what it means to forgive a friend or help a stranger. They begin to notice the struggles of those around them: the lonely, the hungry, the poor, the discouraged and the grieving.
Pope Francis proclaimed a Year of Mercy as an invitation to view our Catholic faith through a specific lens: the lens of mercy. Catholics have always been called to mercy, but this year “we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3). Pope Francis challenged us to show Christ’s fatherly love to those around us regardless of any rewards or recognition.
Our Catholic school students answered this call to mercy during the 2015-16 school year. They rose to the challenge and reached out to others to accompany them in their struggles. In religion class and through the sacraments, students learned what mercy looks like and found ways to show mercy to those most in need.
Through their actions, our Catholic school children lived the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned and burying the dead. Through their words and deeds, they performed spiritual works of mercy: counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing sinners, comforting the afflicted, forgiving offences, bearing wrongs patiently and praying for the living and the dead.
They comforted and prayed for friends who lost loved ones, forgave classmates who hurt them, welcomed new international students to their school communities, made sandwiches for Sharing and Caring Hands, filled backpacks of toys for children and collected coats and shoes. They also held food drives, gathered gear for the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System Community Resource and Referral Center, made birthday presents for kids without and donated blankets to hospitalized children.
Many students experienced God’s mercy and forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time this spring, and many more students took advantage of extra opportunities for confession throughout the school year. Christ welcomed them all with open arms.
If God shows mercy to us by meeting us where we are, then we are called to show mercy to our brothers and sisters in Christ by meeting them where they are and walking with them on the path to eternal life. We are all created in the image and likeness of God. When we are able to see Christ in the faces of others — especially in those who are sometimes the easiest to condemn, ignore or overlook — then we become capable of living out God’s call to mercy. In comforting and guiding others, we may even find we are comforted and guided by them.
“Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of God must be evident,” Pope Francis said. “Wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 14).
As the Year of Mercy continues, may our Catholic schools continue to be oases of mercy, and may the joyful mercy and love of Christ be present to all who pass through our doors.