If only I had a tale of a wondrous event to recount as a reflection on the Year of Mercy. Instead, I have a tale of grace which I have met with small steps and which, perhaps despite me, has enlivened my heart, writes Bishop Mark Edwards OMI.
Pope Francis’ stated goal is that the "Jubilee [of Mercy] be a living experience of the nearness of the Father whose tenderness is almost tangible" and the success criteria by which we are to measure it are (1) "that the faith of all believers be strengthened" and (2) "thus testimony to it be ever more effective."
I share some of the ways in which my faith has been strengthened in the hope that this may help you.
The motto of this Jubilee, "blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy," was a puzzle. Surely, I thought, the order was wrong; I need to experience mercy to have my heart softened so that I can be merciful.
But twice now I have received the message that it is by acting mercifully (even if I don’t feel merciful) that my heart will be opened to be able to receive the free gift of mercy. My interior life will follow my external life – this must lead.
And I am being challenged to build relationships in any merciful actions. It is not enough to help the suffering, I must encounter them.
Ed Millibrand, while campaigning in the UK in 2015, apparently came across a needy person on the footpath with a hat out asking for money. He was embarrassed and confused in front of the reporters.
Should he give? How much should he give so as to not look miserly on national TV? In the end, he fumbled in his pocket, found some coins and gave them.
What a different moment this would have been if he had sat down beside this person and chatted for a few moments before giving the same coins. (He could even have used the moment to talk loudly enough for the Press to hear about how mean the Tory government was to the unemployed).
In a similar way, I am trying to make connections with those suffering. The call of Jesus is pushing me not to stop at the surface, especially when I am dealing with a person. He is leading me to focus on the heart, to really see the person as he or she is, and to respond appropriately to that.
The scripture passage that moves me here is from the prodigal son. The father saw his wasteful, selfish, user son – really saw him deep down, what he was really like in his heart – and ran towards him. He knew him, accepted him, and loved him. Is there anything that I could do that could make God love me the less?
One of the forms my prayer is taking at the moment is to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament and let Jesus see me. I try to adore and worship him but really the important thing is that I am available to be seen and to be loved, to feel him say to me "You are my precious brother; I love you."
I also want to acknowledge two reconciliations this year in which I have felt this acceptance very strongly and the witness of fellow pilgrims at World Youth Day in Kraków last month that have helped me to make this personal.
The Pope asked dioceses to start this year an institution that would carry mercy on into the future. I feel this as a personal challenge: What is my personal version of an institution of mercy that I can commence now and continue? Perhaps it will look like a personal resolution to consistent action or joining a group that does weekly action.
To whom am I (and you) being called to open the door of our hearts with welcome?
There are still three months to go. There is still more good that can come of this year.
This graced time is an invitation to us to take another step; to review what is happening with respect to mercy among us, to learn from this reflection , to celebrate success and to refocus for the future.
Open your heart to experience God’s mercy.
-- Bishop Mark Edwards OMI
Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne