“It is after having experienced God’s unconditional love and undeserved mercy that a person can become a messenger of mercy.”
These words, spoken by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted in his State of the Church address last fall, pointed to Pope Francis’ call to all Catholics to become missionaries of mercy.
In light of that call and throughout the Year of Mercy, The Catholic Sun has been featuring stories about local people who have encountered the mercy of God and are now sharing it with others in compelling ways.
Every month, I walk away from the interview moved by the humility and deep faith of the person selected to share his or her story. Just as God has created each person to be a unique and unrepeatable gift, the paths of these missionaries of mercy are distinctly different. Yet there are striking similarities.
In each case, when I first contact them, they’re surprised and immediately try to shift the focus to someone else. “I’m probably not the person you want,” they tell me. “So-and-so would be better.”
Humility. They recognize that all is grace and that everything they have and do depends on God and His great mercy. They recognize their own brokenness and that they are frail human beings, prone to failure and sin.
Honesty. They are beautifully transparent and refer to a juncture in their lives where, like the Prodigal Son, they recognized their sinfulness and decided to return to God, throwing themselves on His vast mercy.
One woman told me she had been away from the Church for years. A few years ago, sitting at home, she asked herself, “Why do I feel so empty inside?” A man told me that he’d ignored someone who needed his help and partied away his youth. Another man came to the realization that he wasn’t being a good husband and father and that his marriage and family were in ruins.
Gratitude. They are thankful they’ve been given a second chance to follow Christ. They’re thankful for God’s mercy and forgiveness. They’re sincerely trying to be His disciples.
Prayer. The mission of mercy they carry out is the fruit of prayer. Time spent with God in prayer is a top priority for them and their mission flows directly from the graces received during prayer. They don’t look at what they do as mere social work, but instead they see it as God’s will for their lives and a way to give thanks for His mercy.
Love. They’re not just going through the paces and checking the time to see when they can go home. They see their service as a way to love God and they do it with joy and a generous heart, eager to share God’s love with others.
As I ponder these things, in my mind, I’m back in Bethlehem, where God took on flesh and dwelt among us. He entered the world as a tiny infant, utterly dependent on others.
When I visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2012, we stood out front, waiting to pass through a small, very low entryway known as “the Humble Door.”
“You have to make yourself small to go before God,” our tour guide told us. So we hunched down, ducking our heads, and made our way into the ancient church.
Making ourselves small doesn’t come naturally. We’re much more likely to get hung up on pride, the sin that’s been called the father of all sins. This tendency to selfishly focus on ourselves, to think we’re better than others, to think we don’t need to listen to God or to others leads to much unhappiness, sorrow and trouble.
Missionaries of mercy are those who humbly put themselves in last place and reach out to serve others in love and in gratitude. They know that every good gift comes from God and they know His greatest gifts are mercy, love and life. If we follow their example, we’ll change the world for the better, one life at a time.