The Year of Mercy is coming
by Anthony Paz |
“Mercy, your grace,” begs Sansa Stark in an early episode of Game of Thrones. Those of you who have seen this episode know her request is in vain: the king does not spare the accused from a brutal execution. She had asked for stay of execution, even after admitting that the man in question is guilty of his crime. For Sansa, the only recourse is mercy. And King Joffrey, in a characteristic move, remains unwilling offer mercy when he can consolidate power instead.
So, what does this scene from HBO’s notoriously vice-filled medieval fantasy series have to do with Pope Francis? In a word, mercy. Mercy is Pope Francis’ favorite word. He uses it all the time. In fact, he’s proclaimed that, starting Dec. 8th, all Catholics should celebrate a special Year of Mercy. It’s a word you’re going to hear a lot more in the next year.
For better or for worse, the word “mercy” reminds me of scenes like the one from Game of Thrones — a hopeless criminal begging his executioner for unearned relaxation of punishment. I don’t think this is exactly that mercy that Pope Francis wants to focus on for this “extraordinary” year. Papa Francisco described mercy as a “love that consoles, pardons, and instills hope.” It is a reaching out to those who are in pain. It is action-oriented. It is giving without regard to whether the gift is deserved or earned. It is, or should be, the heart of the Christian message and way of life.
Events around the world and on campus in the last few months have highlighted the pain, uncertainty, and trouble we all face on a daily basis. For many reasons, our lives are full of knots. Some knots come from our own choices: getting caught doing something we shouldn’t have, relationships broken after going untended for too long. Other knots are out of our control: mental health troubles, illnesses, family issues, bigotry, and so many more. God helps us untie these knots whatever their cause. That is what we will celebrate in this Year of Mercy, the belief that God, through his Son Jesus, works in the world and in our lives to untie the many knots we carry. In the Psalms we sing “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds… The Lord God lifts of the downtrodden!” (147: 3, 6a).
At UP, Campus Ministry will invite you to turn to God and to each other to give and to receive mercy. This year can be about returning to the message that Jesus proclaimed from a mountain almost 2000 years ago: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
When we return for the new semester, look for events and opportunities to ask for, receive, and offer mercy. Our earnest hope is that we can use this coming year to bind each other’s wounds and offer healing words, regardless of who you are. We will challenge ourselves to be more receptive to God’s love and, as a result, give that love more freely to those in need. Let’s make mercy a word we will recognize outside of examples from fantasy novels.
Anthony Paz is Assistant Director for Liturgy and Catechesis in the department of Campus Ministry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.