Learning to show mercy freely, without the cloud of judgment
It’s the year of mercy, and so far my biggest personal challenge has come from an interview I heard reporter Sarah Koenig conduct with the U.S. Central Command. The women interviewed, who were anonymous for their protection, work in “personnel recovery”. Their jobs are to search for anyone missing in a conflict zone. Their work can be controversial, since it sometimes involves working to rescue people who made poor decisions and were then captured and imprisoned by enemies of the U.S. Koenig explained that they repeatedly told her, “they really do not care about the circumstances of capture. First, you get the person back, and then come consequences” (transcript from serialpodcast.org).
“First you get the person back …” This line has stayed with me, because in my feeble attempts to embrace and show mercy this year, I realize I am quick to judge circumstances and ration mercy as I see fit. For example, when our parish office receives a call from someone who has driven to Florida and needs money for gas, I wonder why they left without a budget. Or, when I smell alcohol on the breath of those who ask for food, I silently question their priorities. Talking and reading about mercy is definitely not the same as actually putting it into practice.
In Misericordiae Vultus, Pope Francis describes the mercy of God as “his loving concern for each of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel. As the Father loves, so do his children” (#9). I can appreciate God’s loving concern for me all day, but to really love others as the Father loves — to turn off the questions and simply see a soul in need — is impossible for me without the grace of God.
This year, as I’ve prayed for more chances to know and show mercy, I’ve realized I’m stingy. It may be natural to look at circumstances and think, “mercy would not even be needed if you had made different choices”.
However, the challenge of mercy is to strive for the supernatural reaction of compassion — to first see the person in front of me with the dignity we all have from being created in God’s image.
This is, of course, what God did for us in the first place — knowing just how we would sin, and how often we would fail. We are in the midst of celebrating the season of Easter. We are remembering that God’s love for us was demonstrated by the ultimate sacrifice of His Son, a sacrifice that we will never be able to repay or deserve.
Simply explained by St. Augustine, “Man is a beggar before God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2559). God gives mercy freely and this year, I’m learning to beg for the grace to see as God sees, so I can share it freely with others.