Within the next 48 hours, I will spend time reflecting with about 100 people on the topic of mercy. In his short time as pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has electrified the world with his bold statements and writings on many topics and has manifested in his person and actions the love that runs as a theme through all that he proclaims. On December 8th of last year, Francis proclaimed a Jubilee Year of Mercy. The biblical understanding of sabbath stated that every seven years the land should lie fallow (resting the soil from the depletion caused by the crops) and after seven such cycles, the 50th year – jubilee – when people would also rest, “giving back” during which land was to be returned to original owner and captives were to be set free, the underlying intent being to restore right relationships and ensure that everyone had the means to live a productive life.
Although a complicated concept from the Book of Leviticus that bears some study to comprehend, the remains of the practice of jubilee in most cases – far beyond Jewish law – is the sense of restoring right relationships: with God, among people and with the earth. It is in this sense that Pope Francis speaks of Mercy, a concept that has lost a sense of fullness in our time and culture and needs to be restored. Here is a portion of his proclamation:
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. 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 humans, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
We are at the halfway point in this jubilee year, past time to begin interiorizing the words – the deeds – contained in the above paragraph. One small act of compassion would be a good start (or conscious continuation) for our “mission of mercy” – something we would do or say to someone in need, even perhaps if that someone were ourselves.