The Next Years of Mercy

The Year of Mercy wrapped up. Despite its closing Pope Francis urges us to continue to walk to the path of mercy. To help me follow Francis’s lead, I reflected on what truth grew in me during this year with hope that this truth will continue to grow. Here are three lessons I was mercy’d with:

1) Forgiveness involves change.

Forgiveness is more than words, but a re-opening of the heart toward the forgiven, an accommodation. The words "I forgive you" alone do not involve a change in the reality of my heart, making it again a new creation, a Christ-like creation. The re-opening, I've learned, is rarely total and can be fleeting. But some re-opening must occur for forgiveness to be happening. Although the words in themselves are never enough, the humility and desire required to mutter them may cause the first crack toward the heart's re-opening. Mercy, like every other experience of the Mystery, changes us.

2) Salvation is right in front of me.

 The degree to which I have lived mercy contributes to my experience of living freely and joyfully. The heart’s most natural disposition is open, and living mercy restores the heart. So salvation is not something far away or a goal I will achieve after crafting the “perfect family,” or becoming the “perfect new evangelist.” Salvation is lived every day that I love my wife in front of me, the co-worker who rubs me the wrong way, or even my enemy. The restored heart is a saved heart.

3) Time is a Mercy

This one came from my wife and, admittedly, after the Year of Mercy. But it does provide a way for me to look back on the Year of Mercy and forward to the coming years of mercy. We spent Thanksgiving with her 80-something year old grandparents in Wisconsin. They are simple, joyful, generous, and generative. It took a long life of living mercy for them to be changed into the living saints that they are today. Instead of lamenting how the heck we could ever turn out like that as a couple or as individuals, my wife expressed gratitude for time. Time is space given to us by God in which his life can grow in us and transform us. Ongoing conversion. Time itself is a mercy.

Here's to many more years of mercy! Have a blessed time waiting for Mercy this Advent.

Did Mercy Happen This Lent?

I’m not much interested in evaluating how well I did with my Lenten commitments. Some years I’ve done well, and others I didn’t even make a commitment to break. Life went on and Lent ended only with gladness that the sacrifices would let up, or that the guilt of ongoing failure would relent. But there’s a new question for me this Holy Week: “What happened to me despite what I did or didn’t do?” This question has the capacity to change me; its answer will help me “do well.”

This question began growing in me after Fr. Kieran, an 89-year old monk of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Kansas, passed away two weeks ago.  I began remembering my time with him while I was part of that community. He was blind and I, along with the other junior monks, had the privilege of helping him with some basic needs throughout the day.

Fr. Kieran spent his life serving God in the poor in both Kansas and Brazil. He knew that Christ was in the flesh of those he encountered. I remembered how it was assisting him with his needs, such as finding the right chapter in his audio books: I was startled, again and again. The man gave his life to Christ and his people, and I was asked to give to him. I knew who I was and, frankly, I wasn’t impressed. But no matter what I’d done or not done, no matter how much I neglected charity or doubted my vocation, I was asked to be by his side toward the end of his remarkable life.

This was a mercy. Nothing I could have done, no failing, prevented the invitation to be with Fr. Kieran. I was asked to do it, despite myself. I grew in love and friendship, despite myself. I was given a gift, despite myself. Despite myself, mercy happened. I’d look at the photo on his wall of him in front of a church while on mission in Brazil and think, “How the hell am I here with him?”

When this mercy came, it was neither grand, nor extravagant. It was a quiet conversation about a book he was listening to, or planning what time he’d have me get him for Mass. It was subtle. You might have called it mundane: A young guy helping an old guy, often because it was his job. It was easy to miss. But the grace to see the whole reality with Fr. Kieran, that I was a sinner receiving a gift, alerted me to mercy.

That memory got me paying a more attention to where mercy happened to me this Lent, rather than where my successes and failures rested. Despite everything I am or do, what has happened? This Lent I was given opportunities to love. I was forgiven again and again. I was surrounded by friends. Challenges confronted me. Through this I’ve desired to pray, to give, to sacrifice, even to “do well.” I’m being given life. I don’t know how much my Lenten sacrifices contributed to these happenings, or how much those sacrifices have helped me to see them. But I did see mercy happening.

Mercy happened to me this Lent. Nothing awesome, just mercy in the flesh. Nothing loud or grandiose, but the “silent whisper” Elijah heard, which could have been drowned out by preoccupation with Lenten success and failure. It is a mercy, too, that I can end this Lent with a judgment that he who is mercy touched me. It’s much better than being glad only that life (viz., my diet) will return to normal… but I’m glad about that, too. 

Forgotten Fruits of Suffering

The forgotten fruits of suffering,
The anointed spouse of loving.
When I run from you,
I flee my greatest friend.
Instead I keep my pleasures queued,
and follow to a bitter end.
I shun love’s cross.
My soul descends into a frost.
Alone and lost I grasp about.
Rains of grace have turned to drought
Twisting and writhing in comforts,
I let out muffled shouts,
The lies I live subverts
The truth I know inside.
I cling to hope, my guide,
Pray for grace to cast aside
the damning pleasure’s chains
For in these labor pains,
It is grace alone that reaches down,
and grasps me from the barren ground,
To walk the path of Calvary,
The only path on which I'm rightly free.
I beg the mercy of the lover,
that I may share in suffering,
to bear the lovers burden,
to know the fruits of love,
and to be fruitful too.
For by the gentle Dove,
gliding down from up above,
I find the strength to encounter all anew,
and bid the barren past adieu.