Catholics know this year’s buzz word, but grasping the concept of mercy beyond the confessional can be tough.
Young minds can understand it in the context of forgiveness as can the waves of neophytes who recently completed the sacraments of initiation via the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. Others might be able to name some of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy as examples.
The Jubilee Year of Mercy Pope Francis declared is aimed at rooting the concept in the heart too, not just the mind. So when school leaders at St. Francis Xavier set out to create a literary showcase for students via a self-published collection, “mercy” immediately became the theme.
The result: a 45-page, spiral-bound book featuring poems, reflections, simple thoughts and artwork about the idea of mercy and how it plays out in daily living. The top three submissions from each grade level, including preschool, were included. Priests, parents, administrators and language arts teachers served as judges. Each family and featured writer/artist received a copy earlier this month.
“‘Mercy’ was hard for the kids to understand. It was a very deep and abstract topic,” said Anne Sanford, who was among three language arts teachers leading the project. “We took words that encapsulated it and assigned them to different grades.”
Preschoolers looked at mercy as caring. First-graders hit a home run on the idea of mercy as love. Other students reflected on mercy shown through of kindness, forgiveness, grace, service and understanding. Junior high students presented ideas for mercy via sacrifice, generosity and empathy.
Eighth-grader Claire McCarville compared the honest differences between two unnamed girls in her poem about empathy. They don’t look, sound or dress alike. They’re not even friends, yet they experience hurt, suffering and joy the same way, she wrote. “Will I leave her, suffering, because she is not like me? Or will I help her because she is like me?” the poem reads.
“Her poem was so poignant in sharing what mercy means,” Sanford said. She looks forward to exploring the book with her class so students of all ages can share other ideas about mercy.
Reminders of mercy
Fr. Bernard Olszewski spends most weekends teaching about mercy and imparting it. He is one of Pope Francis’ 1,071 specially-commissioned missionaries of mercy alongside three fellow Cross Catholic Outreach priests. The international outreach in 40 countries works to break generational poverty by addressing basic human needs.
Without meeting the fundamental need for adequate food, clean drinking water and safe shelter — essentially carrying out the corporal works of mercy — not much else can be done, Fr. Olszewski said. God’s mercy can also manifest via a person’s word, tone or gesture, Pope Francis told the missionaries at their commissioning.
He viewed relics of St. Padre Pio and St. Leopold during that same pilgrimage to the Vatican. By hearing fellow pilgrim voices around him, the newly commissioned missionary of mercy realized that mercy had a lot to do with how a person felt in God’s presence.
“We are all in need of the feeling of being washed over by Gods’ love because we let so many things take over,” Fr. Olszewski told The Catholic Sun after hearing confessions at Phoenix’s St. Paul Parish April 17. Experiencing mercy leads to sharing the love.
“If I’m a container, a vessel, that is filled to the brim, if I don’t expel it out, share it, I cannot leave any room for God to fill it,” Fr. Olszewski said.
Fr. Michael Tinker, director Native American Ministries for the Diocese of Phoenix, offered similar words during a May 6 “Mercy Night” at St. Joan of Arc Parish. It’s not enough to invite Jesus in, he said, “You have to go bring His light to other people.”
That can only happen if the sacrament of Reconciliation precedes it to erase anger, resentment and other marks of sin.
“You gotta ask. You gotta say yes to His mercy,” Fr. Tinker said, emphasizing the night was one of forgiveness and a new beginning. “When He comes into your heart, darkness is gone.”
Year of Mercy
The Jubilee Year of Mercy continues through Nov. 20 with an emphasis on being “Merciful Like the Father.” Immerse yourself in mercy via:
- Mercy Nights: 7-9 p.m. June 3 at Christ the King Parish, 1551 E. Dana Ave., Mesa. Prayer, music, talks, Reconciliation
- Works of mercy: corporal and spiritual
A steady stream of penitents filled an entire section of pews for three hours that “Mercy Night” where they prayerfully awaited their turn for Reconciliation with the Lord. Priests promise to offer several confession stations 7-9 p.m. on first Fridays at rotating churches throughout the Year of Mercy and are prepared to stay until everyone who wants a turn gets one.
The transformations were obvious. Children and adults of all ages somberly awaited the sacrament. They emerged with gentle smiles and lighter steps, confident of their forgiveness and resolve to bring His light to others.
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has seen a great increase in the number of people going to confession at Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral during this Year of Mercy and heard about similar increases at other parishes. He said he has been edified by the humility and goodness of the people.
“The generosity of priests in providing many more opportunities for the sacrament of reconciliation has been matched by a new appreciation on the part of our people,” Bishop Olmsted said. “A number of people have spoken of being inspired to engage more actively in works of mercy, both in parishes and beyond.”