The Kingdom of Mercy
The Solemnity of Christ the King also marks the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. So how did we do? Let’s take a look back at Pope Francis’ bull Misericordiae Vultus (“The Face of Mercy”) to take an inventory.
He begins with this profound statement: “Jesus Christ is the Face of the Father’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith” (#1). The pope expressed his hope for the Year of Mercy, saying, “How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy… May the balm of mercy reach everyone, both believers and those far away, as a sign that the Kingdom of God is already present in our midst!” (#5)
The readings today remind us that when the Good Thief said to Jesus from the cross, “‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ He replied to him, ‘Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” There are two things worth noting. First, the connection that the pope makes between the Kingdom and mercy is quite apparent here. Second, Jesus did not say, “In the future when I come again, you will be with me in the Kingdom.” Instead, he said, “this day.” The Kingdom is already among us; yet we wait for its fullness.
Waiting involves patience, and patience means suffering. (The root of patience is the Latin verb patior, which means to suffer). This is why, even though the Kingdom is already here in some sense, nonetheless “We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait…” (Romans 8:22-23).
Our waiting, of course, is not passive. We have a mission from Christ, and the very word Mass is a form of the Latin word for being sent. What are we sent to do? “The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy,” the pope writes, “professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ” (#25). “The Church… is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy” (#25). “[W]herever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident… wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy” (#12).
This all sounds wonderful in the abstract, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t like the image of an oasis of mercy? It’s much harder when your family is torn apart due to political differences, divorce, domestic violence, addiction, and the like. It’s much harder when the wounds we have received are fresh and personal. It’s much harder when we’ve been taught that some people aren’t worthy of our mercy; we are taught to respect only those who respect us, and to look out for our own interests. It’s much harder when we’ve been led to believe that showing mercy is a weakness in a culture where only the strong survive. It’s much harder when showing mercy means taking time away from other things we prefer to focus on. The corporal and spiritual works of mercy, after all, demand a commitment of our time and energy. They also require that we leave our comfort zone and see the humanity and the image of God especially in those that society most ardently rejects or simply forgets.
“Love… can never be just an abstraction” (#9) the pope reminds us. “Let us not fall into humiliating indifference or a monotonous routine that prevents us from discovering what is new!” (#15) “Let us ward off destructive cynicism!” he writes. “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help!… May their cry become our own, and together may we break down the barriers of indifference that too often reign supreme and mask our hypocrisy and egoism!” (#15)
“Jesus affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are” (#9). “Be merciful just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). If we dare to pray “Our Father,” then we must be children of mercy. The Year of Mercy is over, but the mission of mercy continues. We work and pray for the Kingdom, a Kingdom of love and mercy: “Thy Kingdom come!” We renew our commitment to conversion from sin and selfishness, and to fidelity to God and God alone, expressed in mercy to all God’s people and to all of creation. Finally, we turn to Mary for inspiration, example, and intercession: Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us!