Teaching Our Faith – Merciful like the Father

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

This series of teaching editorials will cover topics related to mercy as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy from December of 2015 to November of 2016.

What is mercy and how can it change lives? As we contemplate the quality of mercy during this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I would like to briefly reflect on the quality of mercy and its place in our lives.

We all have heard the term “random acts of kindness.” Actually, works of mercy are not at all random. Rather they are spawned from a very specific look that notices the misery, large and small, at our doorstep.

These works emerge from the love of Christ, which is grace abiding within our hearts and which moves us to reach out to others and show mercy. Throughout all of sacred Scripture and especially within the Gospel passages, when the love of Christ touches and meets human misery, mercy results.

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we will be focusing on the Gospel of Luke, the source of some favorite Scripture stories. Two are helpful for this reflection.

The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37) is a classic example of a very concrete act of mercy. A man who is a Samaritan responds to another man whose misery results from being robbed, beaten and left for dead along the road.

This Gospel story confounded the expectations of the original community with which it was shared (and is very relevant in our own polarized society) because of the identity of the person demonstrating mercy, a Samaritan.

Samaritans were considered the enemy, so mercy in this context takes on a whole new dimension. While we don’t know why the others who passed the beaten man did not stop, we do know that the Samaritan, the enemy, looked outward and allowed God’s grace to flow from him to a person in need, despite his differences with the victim.

As Scripture scholar Amy-Jill Levine stated in a column in the January/February 2012 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, “This parable offers a vision of life rather than death. … It insists that enemies can prove to be neighbors, that compassion has no boundaries and that judging people on the basis of their religion or ethnicity will leave us dying in a ditch.”

The parable of the Forgiving Father, commonly known as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), is another favorite story demonstrating the unending mercy of God the Father.

This quality of mercy explodes our notions of what someone “deserves” or is owed and emerges from the often complicated and difficult processes of reconciliation that we all experience in our families.

The Father loves and listens to his sons, whose misery has resulted from bad decisions in one case and from resentment and jealousy in the other. This parable speaks of an outward-looking mercy that always seeks the one who is lost. Who exactly is lost in this parable is part of its challenge.

The first step in this movement of mercy is to freely allow the love of Christ to touch the “misery” in our own hearts. We experience that love of Christ in many ways, but especially through the sacraments of holy Eucharist and reconciliation.

Through these sacraments, our hearts are softened, and our eyes and ears, like those of Jesus Himself, are prepared to look beyond our own needs and our own misery.

In the interview that has now become a book, “The Name of God is Mercy,” Pope Francis speaks of good confessors whom he has come to know over the decades. He describes their approach as an “apostolate of the ear.” Penitents are attracted by a confessor who is able to listen well.

Thus, our apostolate, whether with family members, school mates, co-workers or strangers, should focus on a conscious effort to look outward and listen well so that we can facilitate the meeting of the love of Christ in our hearts with the human misery of others.

We will learn more about this outward movement in later editorials that deal with the sacrament of reconciliation, the spiritual and corporal works of mercy, our own efforts to reach out to others through the Catholic Connection, and the faces of mercy.

In “Misericordiae Vultus,” the bull of indiction announcing this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis reminds us that mercy is a “key word that indicates God’s actions toward us” and that “Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. … It indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes and behaviors that are shown in daily living (9).”

As we celebrate this Year of Mercy, let us deepen our resolve to be “merciful like the Father.”

Most Reverend Joseph E. Kurtz, D.D.
Archbishop of Louisville

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