Tag Archive | Year of Mercy


jubilee-year-of-mercyLast March Pope Francis declared an extraordinary Jubilee, a Holy Year of Mercy. No question that the world needs compassion, forgiveness, and mercy! But I found myself a bit concerned: wouldn’t highlighting mercy lead to the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy — all fourteen of which focus on people? Might this not reinforce a tendency to the anthropocentrism that the pope would later lament in his encyclical Laudato Si’? Further, the Works of Mercy have traditionally been more concerned with charity than with addressing the causes of the need for charity. Whether or not the pope was thinking of those fourteen works of mercy, how do we interpret them in light of this newly-understood interconnection of all creation and the need for global justice?

If we believe that the name of God is Mercy, it follows that Mercy (aka God) lives and acts in all creation, with no exclusions. We cannot care for people without caring for our common home. Deepening our awareness of the loving forgiveness and mercy of God/ Mercy propels us to make connections: humans with the rest of creation, mercy with justice.

Works of Mercy

dayton-food-08In Matthew 25, Jesus lists the ultimate tests for being accepted into the kingdom: “Then he shall say to them … Come, you who are blessed by my Father … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me.”

The Church eventually listed seven essential Spiritual Works of Mercy, and seven Corporal Works:
Counsel the doubtful                                                      Feed the hungry
Teach those who lack knowledge                                    Give drink to the thirsty
Admonish sinners                                                           Clothe the naked
Comfort the afflicted                                                      Welcome the stranger
Forgive those who hurt us                                             Visit the sick
Bear patiently with those who do us ill                          Visit the imprisoned
Pray for the living and the dead                                      Bury the dead

Seen originally as person-to-person relationships, we now realize that “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his [sic] creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.” Laudato Si’, par. 92

Making Connections 

b2d7ae612546384ea8aa5c55294665d3Seen in the light of redressing causes, working for justice, and interconnecting with all of creation, these works take on even greater relevance. Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, for example, are impossible when soil and water are seriously polluted and/or when climate change results in droughts or floods or salination or  species extinction. Justice is also a factor, for food quality and availability are often endangered by laws that benefit corporations at the expense soil and farmers and the hungry who need healthful food.

The saying goes that if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime — but not if the fish stock is depleted by overfishing or climate disruption, if his access is usurped by big industry, the water is polluted, etc. And what about job availability and just wages to allow the workers and the hungry to purchase food?

White House officials held a call with governors Tuesday evening about Syrian refugees as a growing number of state executives are saying they will not welcome resettling them in their states over terror concerns.

Of course Christians want to welcome the stranger. Whatever we do to the least, we do to Christ. But take a look at the states where governors have said strangers are not welcome. How are we addressing the causes of  and solutions to this lack of welcome? What are we doing to stop the causes — climate change, wars, persecution —  that drive millions to leave their homes and flee to an uncertain future?

Integral Ecology

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis devotes one of his five chapters to “Integral Ecology.” Try substituting “the works of mercy” for “the analysis of environmental problems” in this quote from par. 141: “Today, [the analysis of environmental problems] cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.”

The first sentence of Pope Francis’ declaration of the Year of Mercy provides the key to unlocking connections: “The call of Jesus pushes each of us never to stop at the surface of things, especially when we are dealing with a person.” Let’s look below and beyond and all around the Works of Mercy to see how they interconnect with everything else — and what we can do about it.




I am writing this on Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day we join with friends and family to give gratitude for the abundant blessings we enjoy. In contrast, think of what one refugee replied when asked what he had brought with him on the boat heading for Turkey. He thought for a moment and answered: “Sadness.”

This man is caught in the greatest migration since World War II. Though numbers cannot 5288632902_85224781d1_bbe exact, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that 2014 saw almost 60 million women, children, and men displaced either within or outside their home areas. That number is approximately the population of Italy!

How we respond to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing terror and persecution, war, poverty, gangs, climate change, and hopelessness is a major issue for both leaders and citizens of the countries to which these homeless people flee. We must get beyond the numbing numbers and “feel” the plight of individuals. For those aware of how closely we are interconnected to all creation on our common home, the decision to welcome these brothers and sisters is inescapable.* (The US terror attacks have come from within.)

Connection to Climate Change

Researchers and policymakers warn that these numbers are sure to increase because of climate change. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center states that roughly three times as many people were displaced by environmental disasters between 2008 and 2013 than fled from conflict and violence.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned recently that the scenes of chaos and heartbreak in Europe will be repeated globally unless the world acts to mitigate climate change. “Wait until you see what happens when there’s an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival,” Kerry said.

Climate change leads to crop failures, natural disasters, higher food prices and the spread of waterborne diseases, creating poverty and pushing people at risk into destitution. The World Bank warns that rising temperatures could drive 100 million people into extreme poverty. Professor Norman Myers of Oxford University and other reputable scientists put the number at twice that amount.

Talks in Paris now until Dec. 10 give hope that the world’s leaders will take positive steps to reduce climate change and thus reduce refugee numbers in the future.

Jubilee Year of Mercy

JUBILEE-YEAR-OF-MERCYCare of Earth and care of humanity cannot be separated. Pope Francis recently said, “There is a clear link between the protection of nature and the building of a just and equitable social order. There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature, without a renewal of humanity itself.”

December 8th begins the Roman Catholic Year of Mercy that extends to November 20, 2016. Calling us to a spiritual conversion, Pope Francis writes: “We want to live this Year in the light of the Lord’s words: ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.’ (cf. Lk 6:36)” Addressing Catholics, he writes: “I am convinced that the whole Church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.”

It seems relevant that Human Rights Day will be celebrated two days after this special year begins. The Year of Mercy reminds Catholics — and others — to show mercy by helping refugees achieve their human rights. Welcoming refugees is a direct response to the Gospel mandate to welcome the homeless and treat everyone as we would treat Christ. It is an important way to show mercy. We also practice mercy by taking action to mitigate the reasons — like climate change and war — that cause people to flee their homes.

Listening to those who would withhold compassion for certain groups makes one wonder if the innkeepers who refused Joseph and his pregnant wife 2000 years ago truly had no room, or if they didn’t choose to accept people from Galilee. How sad if we could be similarly blinded!


* Entering the United States as a refugee is already a long and difficult process. It takes anywhere from 18 to 24 months or longer, and involves the FBI, Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Defense Department and the State Department. Your biometric data is checked against law-enforcement databases. You must pass a battery of interviews. And if you’re from Syria, the process is even more rigorous.

*My parish, St. Gertrude, Chicago, true to its pledge that “All Are Welcome!” is making plans to welcome a family from Syria (or whatever family is in need). Over 100  parishioners have volunteered to help, and the entire parish will contribute as needed.