I’ve thought and talked a lot about mercy, especially since I came to understand that it has more to do with love than with pity. At the conclusion of the “Year of Mercy” declared by Pope Francis, it was suggested that we continue to keep that virtue front and center in our lives. Not a bad idea, it seems, in our broken, frustrating world as we attempt to maintain equilibrium and good faith each day.
Lent is a perfect time for practicing mercy and contemplating the breadth of what it can mean – not just as an aspect of God but in our human interactions as well. Psalm 95 acknowledges God’s mercy to us this morning with the refrain: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.
From the human side, Joan Chittister has a great paragraph about mercy in monastic life in her book Wisdom Distilled From the Daily. In speaking about the qualities of the abbot she writes the following which I find to be comforting as well as challenging.
The abbot must be more intent on mercy than on judgment. But if that is the case, then clearly Benedict knew the world was made up of the very imperfect, the very human where a great deal of mercy would be necessary as we each wound our stumbling, human way to God. We, on the other hand, find it so hard not to expect perfection of ourselves and, because of that, to expect it of others as well. We drive ourselves and drive everyone around us beyond any achievable standard and then wonder why we fail and fail and fail. Benedictine spirituality says that life is a set of weaknesses in search of wholeness and we must be patient with one another’s growth. (p. 115)