I don’t know about you, but for me the meaning of the Year of Mercy is a bit hard to grasp, and I would agree with Pope Francis when he called it a mystery.
So, for Lent this year, I am reading what he and Bishop Donald Kettler have written to help us understand how to live out this word. I have to admit that since making that decision some interesting, even odd, things have happened.
Odd thing No. 1: I was shopping at Aldi and I noticed a man with a very worn jacket, hood up, unshaven, and he was mumbling to himself. I passed him once in an aisle and thought little of it. Then, at the checkout aisle, I came in first. You know that feeling: no waiting!
Call it mercy, but when I saw this man come in behind me, I found myself smiling and letting him go in front of me.
Odd thing No. 2: A couple of days later at a gas station, a man, in broken English, asked if I would jump-start his car. I was on the phone with my son and ready to drive away but I ended my call and drove around so he could fasten the jumper cables. We even had a chance to laugh a bit as I fumbled to find the latch for my car’s hood. As his engine started and he took off the cables, he said, “Thank you so much” twice, very clearly.
Joy and peace
First of all, how often does someone ask you for something like that at a gas station? Without mercy on my mind, would I have said yes to a stranger asking me to jump-start his car? Without mercy, would I have given my spot in the checkout aisle to a stranger? Pope Francis says that when we contemplate the mystery of mercy, “it is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace.” Yes, I felt that.
In “Be Merciful, Just as Your Father is Merciful,” Bishop Kettler names a concrete opportunity for us in this diocese to show mercy. That is to immigrants and refugees, “which Scripture refers to as ‘the aliens in our midst.’”
In my job as director of social concerns, I have gotten to know and respect many Latinos and Somalis. Being in the room as Bishop Kettler met with a local Muslim imam and an elder, I was moved by the mercy shown by all involved. Judgment was suspended and the conversation was about peace and working together and beliefs we have in common.
Was it a bit uncomfortable? Yes, but only because this situation was so new and different for me. What happened for me since that day is best described by Pope Francis. He writes, “I trust that … celebrating the mercy of God will foster an encounter with (Judaism and Islam) and with other noble religious traditions; may it open us to even more fervent dialogue so that we might know and understand one another better; may it eliminate every form of closed-mindedness and disrespect, and drive out every form of violence and discrimination.”
Work of the Spirit
Mercy is also growing in our diocese. I am hearing more frequently from parishes that would like to learn about their Muslim neighbors and are scheduling talks and gatherings to have the dialogue that our pope and bishop are requesting.
Odd that people in local parishes are asking for this dialogue when it is easier to avoid the subject. Odd that they are risking and are standing with people of another religion in mercy.
But, as I think about the results of my own contemplation on mercy, and the actions that resulted, I don’t find it odd at all. Certainly it is the work of the Spirit. A Spirit who always asks us to love a bit more, to care a bit more and to build the reign of God a bit more on the earth.
No, not odd at all! Grace!
Kathy Langer is director of social concerns for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Cloud.