Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The End is Near --- Hooray!

Advice from Pope Francis for this year and beyond.
Photo Bobby Bullock, with permission. 
Hooray! The end is near ~ the end of the Year of Mercy, that is.

It is true, the Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis will close on November 20, 2016, ‘the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, and living face of the Father’s mercy.’ We may be tempted to think – those of us who were less recollected during this jubilee year – that it is time to move on to some other virtue. After all, we know that there are many, many virtues to pursue in a lifetime, so why concentrate so much on just one of them?
However, before we send the Year of Mercy packing, we might want to give a bit more thought to mercy which is actually more than just another virtue. We know that virtue, by definition, is something coming from our human nature. Hence, the word itself: virtue (vir = man; virtue = a characteristic of man, things like strength, righteousness, moral excellence, etc.). And, of course, we mean this in the sense of all human beings, male and female. There are natural virtues such as prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude; these can be elevated by grace to Christian virtues. Then there are moral virtues such as obedience, patience, truthfulness, and piety, to name only a few. There are also supernatural virtues, also known as theological virtues; these are faith, hope, and love, particular gifts of God which direct us to God.

But, back to the virtue of mercy and why I said it is more than just another virtue. I was debating out loud with myself on whether grace and mercy are the same thing when Amber, one of our postulants, said that she heard it explained this way: grace comes as a gift we don’t deserve, and mercy comes instead of the punishment we do deserve. So, in this sense both grace and mercy are gifts of God.  Grace is from God because it is a sharing in divine life, while mercy can also come from us. Certainly, we are inspired and empowered to be merciful by God living within us, but we can “do” mercy to others by kind deeds, a good word, a helping hand. It is a very special virtue in that sense. We can imitate our merciful God by freely giving the gift of mercy to another person. What an amazing grace! We could say that God is bestowing mercy through us when we are being merciful to another.
Be merciful to one another.
Photo Rae Stabosz, with permission.

This sharing in God’s gift of mercy requires another very important virtue, and that is humility. Blessed James Alberione tells us that “humility is the virtue which inclines us to know and reflect upon ourselves and wish to be taken at our true value.” God is everything and I am in need of everything. Hearing Alberione speak these words brings to mind the “icon of mercy”, Mother Teresa – now Saint Teresa of Calcutta. What was her secret for living a lifetime of mercy, the daily collaboration with God as He bestowed his gift through her hands? Her secret was a profound and trusting humility. Teresa knew who she was before God and she knew His desire to use her emptiness as a vessel of mercy to fill the needs of His poorest children.

Following Pope Francis's lead.
Photo Bobby Bullock, with permission
We also know another extraordinary aspect of Mother Teresa’s humility and that was the extent of her own emptiness. Only after her death was it revealed through her diaries that Mother Teresa had humbly embraced darkness in her own spiritual life in order to convey God’s light to His needy ones. Those of us who have bouts of distraction or periods of loneliness in our prayer can only be in awe of Mother Teresa’s joyful, unreserved gift to God who hid from her, giving her no consolation in prayer while she was consolation personified for those she served. Mother Teresa knew her value before God. She was His to use as mercy to others.

So, let’s not be too eager to move on to another virtue, but instead let us take the challenge Pope Francis proposed to the young people who gathered this summer in Poland for World Youth Day. The Holy Father encouraged them to “pursue an adventure of mercy,” in other words, as he said, “put on walking shoes of mercy in order to make a mark on the world.” Let God be God and let us be His servants. Let us think humbly of ourselves and step out as instruments of God’s mercy in our own world.

Sister Mary Lea Hill, a member of the Daughters of St. Paul since 1964, has enjoyed communicating the faith through a variety of apostolic assignments. Her skills as a story teller were honed as director of audiovisual productions when Pauline Books & Media first produced animated features in the early 80s. An editor and author for many years, Sister Mary Lea has written several books, including Prayer and You, Blessed are the Stressed, Saints Alive: The Gospel Witnessed, Saints Alive: The Faith Proclaimed, and the best-selling Basic Catechism (co-authored with Sister Susan Helen Wallace).

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