'Mercy as an action word'

Les Tomlinson Bishop of Sandhurst

Mercy is the theme of the Francis era. Pope Francis even came up with a verb for it: Misericordiando, or ‘mercy-ing.’ The Bishop of Sandhurst, Les Tomlinson considers that theme of this Jubilee Year in his Reflection.

Seeing mercy as an action word invites reflection!

Mercy has been seen by some as a kind of privilege that I could grant to someone else, even though they may not deserve it.

However, Mercy is at the heart of all Christian beliefs, stretching back to the Old Testament when God revealed himself as one who has never ceased to show mercy to his people.

Then in the New Testament, Jesus was the embodiment of God’s Mercy.

Living out God’s mercy in our lives is not about a gift, which in our discretion, we hand out and measure out on our terms. 

God’s mercy is something we receive in measures which go way beyond our merits.  God does not sit there in judgment.

He is the Father of the prodigal son who is out there looking and waiting. When he sees his son returning, the Father welcomes him, robes him and prepares a feast.

Our world needs that concept of mercy.  We live in a world that is calculating and measuring.

According to Dublin’s Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, ‘our world and our Church need a new resurrection of the sense of mercy... because ours is a faith of resurrection, where God’s activity is not that of humiliation, but of raising up and enabling and encouraging and giving new hope and vision’[1].

Much is being said at this time about the mercy of God.

Above all else, God’s mercy is God’s call to us to turn again to him, no matter the mess we may be in.

God's mercy draws our eyes beyond our preoccupation with our own sense of being acceptable or accepted; to see again the glory that he has for us if only we would let him shape our lives afresh. God’s mercy, in a word, is our opportunity for conversion. 

The problem is that if we are trapped into an image of God whose justice is primarily punitive, we will never see mercy as essential to the Christian concept. To use the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper, Mercy would become “a concept often to be downgraded, degenerating into soft spirituality or vague pastoral concern, lacking clear definition and shaped somehow to suit each individual”[2].

Therefore, we have to understand that God’s mercy is the unfolding of his justice, not the replacing of his justice, so we have to hold those two together.

As Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of St Peter’s Basilica he said: “Open the gates of justice.” With five strong thrusts, the Pope pushed open the Holy Door, a symbol of God’s justice, which he said will always be exercised “in the light of his mercy.”

In the Bible, the goal of justice is standing right with God and, therefore, with others as well. That sense of justice can only happen or be achieved through the action of God’s mercy — not through retribution, restoration, or equalization. This is the message of Pope Francis that God looks on us with love, not condemnation; with compassion, not with harsh judgment; with mercy, not with exacting legalism.

The Church is calling all of us to rediscover the beautiful experience of the Mercy of God. Every one of us needs to walk through the Jubilee Door of Mercy, because the mercy that we seek can only be found in a personal encounter with the living God. “It is God's mercy which saves us, lifts us up, and enables us to grow more and more into the people He is calling us to be.”[3]

God’s mercy is central to the message of Jesus himself, so the Pope is placing it at the centre of our discussions, reflections and prayer for this coming year so that we can recognize ‘the real face of God’.

Let us all pass through the Holy Door of Mercy, knowing that Mary, the Mother of God and Mother of Mercy is at our side to intercede for us.

-          The Most Rev. Leslie Tomlinson DD, Bishop of Sandhurst


[1] Martin, Diarmuid, 2014 Sept 24, Homily notes for 20 years of Mercy Association Dublin, Ireland www.dublindiocese.ie/2014/09

[2] Kasper, Walter 2014    Mercy: The key to the understanding of the book is the subtitle: “Mercy: the essence of the Gospel and the key to the Christian life”.  Paulist Press International

[3] Archbishop Timothy Costelloe, December 2015, in celebrating the opening of the Holy Door at St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth, to mark the start of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. perthcatholic.org.au/News_and_Events-News-2015-December-Week_3