Photo Credit: Return of the Prodigal Son: Morillo
According to The Catholic Dictionary, the term MERCY is defined this way:
The disposition to be kind and forgiving. Founded on compassion, mercy differs from compassion or the feeling of sympathy in putting this feeling into practice with a readiness to assist.
Mercy is, therefore, the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation.
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father extends complete pardon and reconciliation to his wayward son who has come home seeking to work with the servants to feed the hogs and avoid starvation. His Father rejoices at the return of his younger son. He clothes him in fine linens and kills the fatted calf.
However, the elder son, upon returning from the fields, hears about the celebration and becomes angry.
“He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’”
Luke 15: 28-32
The Father extends mercy to his elder son, too. He refuses to engage with him in his anger. He reminds him that all his possesssions belong to him and asks the responsible son to rejoice with him over his brother’s return.
We don’t know if the elder, responsible son did rejoice. We can hope that he let go of his anger and welcomed his younger brother home, continuing the flow of mercy. (Isn’t it interesting that so many of the problems we face now were the same ones people faced in ancient days? Times may change, but it doesn’t seem that people do.)
And now, it’s the Christmas season.
I can feel people already cringing, knowing that the holidays are coming. With the flow of the holiday season, we can become white knuckled at the thought of family gatherings. With unresolved issues in many families, it’s unrealistic to assume that one day together will bring peace. However, one hour, one meal, one day together or, maybe a phone call, can open the doors of mercy in our families.
Family dynamics are a tough terrain to walk. Some people can find peace in knowing they extended an olive branch. Some need to get together to recall the love and joy they once had. Some families can never be reunited. Nevertheless, in this year of mercy we must be ready and willing to help anyone in need. As difficult as it might be, we are being called upon to be more kind and tender. We are also being called upon to pardon those who have injured us or to reconcile, as best we can, with those from whom we are estranged.
It’s challenging to know when to draw the line and where to make the boundaries, but we are called upon to show mercy. We do not have to allow ourselves to be the subject of abuse or continued abuse. We can offer forgiveness. We might not be able to go father than that, but in forgiving we find peace.
We are also called upon to show mercy to ourselves. We are called to forgive ourselves and remember that God’s mercy is greater than any of our sins. We are called to reconcile with God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. God’s Mercy and Graces flow freely in the confessional. We must be accountable for our sins, but we must also remember that God loves us. He has given us rules for life. When we break the rules and turn from Hiim, we have the blessings of confession to bring about reconciliation with Him.
Then, there’s the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Pray this prayer daily, and your life will change.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
It was a long way to get here, but instead of an ending, this is a beginning. Let Mercy flow through you, in you, around you in this Year of Mercy. Like Pope Francis, open the doors of Mercy in your heart. God is pouring out His graces upon us.
So, It’s early, I know that, but, “Merry Christmas! I really do mean it!”