Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What Is Mercy?

Mercy. When I was newly married, I taught a sixth grade religious education class. The book we used was titled God’s Merciful Love and traced the stories of the Old Testament, illustrating how God’s mercy is constant despite man’s wandering and disobedience. In Christian thought there is this constant contrast between the vengeful Old Testament Father and the kindness of His Son in the New Testament that doesn’t make any sense until you dig deeper into the mystery of God’s mercy.

Through teaching that year I learned much about God’s mercy, and over time, the Lord has illuminated more and more to me. For that is the way God works. He uses our everyday circumstances to reveal Himself to us. Our weekly attendance at Sunday Mass at the Mission of Divine Mercy has led me deeper into this mystery, too. This Jubilee Year of Mercy is an exciting time for me to allow the Lord to teach me more, and lately I have been thinking about the questions I have about God’s mercy.

Let’s start with: What is mercy? I love this explanation:

It wasn’t until recently, when I heard a priest’s homily about mercy that I finally had a concrete definition to apply to my thoughts and actions in daily living. This priest broke down the Latin word for mercy, which is misericordia, derived from the two words miserere (“pity” or “misery”) and cor (“heart”). He then proceeded to say that when we ask for God’s mercy, we are essentially asking him to relieve us of a heart that is in misery. And our hearts can be in a state of misery not just from sin, but from the deep hurt caused by a broken relationship with a family member, from the suffering of infertility, from the pain of a physical or mental illness, from losing a job, from being betrayed or abandoned, from spiritual or physical poverty, and so on.

Now when I think about mercy as “relieving someone from a heart of misery,” I realize that I’ve experienced God’s mercy much more than I could ever count. And I’ve also realized that I, in turn, have given mercy to others in more ways than just by forgiving someone who has wronged me.

For another definition, in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, we find:

I answer that, As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei ix, 5), mercy is heartfelt sympathy for another's distress, impelling us to succor him if we can. For mercy takes its name "misericordia" from denoting a man's compassionate heart [miserum cor] for another's unhappiness. Now unhappiness is opposed to happiness: and it is essential to beatitude or happiness that one should obtain what one wishes; for, according to Augustine (De Trin. xiii, 5), "happy is he who has whatever he desires, and desires nothing amiss." Hence, on the other hand, it belongs to unhappiness that a man should suffer what he wishes not. (emphasis mine)

In his Easter 2013 Ubi et Orbi message, Pope Francis challenges us:

God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (Ez. 37:1-14) … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives, too, and let us become agents of this mercy.

"What is mercy?" was the first question we discussed at our January Potluck Breakfast for Catholic Homeschooling Mothers, and I'll share our subsequent conversation in the coming days. To further your own understanding of mercy, consider signing up for the Faces of Mercy Catholic Conference 4 Moms here! This online conference gives you unlimited access to over 20 quality presentations for the Lenten season including a LIVE presentation this Saturday, February 20 by one of my favorite Catholic homeschooling moms, Jennifer Fulwiler! I've decided to highlight this excellent resource on the blog this week, because it fits in so well with our breakfast conversation from last month and is such a flexible, affordable, inspiring conference for moms! And you can get $4.00 off by entering my affiliate coupon code "mother" (any affiliate funds I earn will be used to offset the cost of our breakfast group's conference access, thanks)

What is your definition of mercy? Has it always included only forgiveness or also this idea of "relieving someone from a heart of mercy"?

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