3rd Sunday of Advent Reflection by Christina Bax
Mercy. As we enter into the Jubilee Year of Mercy, I find myself struggling to wrap my mind around this word. MERCY. Of course I know what it means – I can use it in a sentence, I can point to it in my experience, I can quote it from Scripture. Yet a concise, concrete definition of mercy still eludes me. Perhaps this is because mercy is a word rich in meaning, a multi-faceted expression of love too great to be captured in a simple sentence. In the year ahead, Pope Francis is calling us to constant contemplation on this “mystery of mercy.”
Mercy is first and foremost at the heart of God’s attitude and actions toward us. In his letter announcing the Jubilee Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus), Pope Francis speaks of mercy as “The ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us…the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” (par 2)
God’s mercy is proclaimed in today’s first reading, as Zephaniah prophesies the day of judgment:
“Be glad and exult with all your heart…
The Lord has removed the judgment against you…
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love”
For me, it is the last phrase that draws me ever deeper into reflection on God’s mercy. “The Lord will renew you in his love.” Have you ever been renewed through love? When I think about the special people in my life who have renewed me in their love, I find myself both grateful and deeply indebted to them. Being renewed through love can be a long and messy process, with one’s deepest brokenness and greatest vulnerabilities exposed. And yet love still prevails; a compassionate, patient, forgiving, and steadfast love that heals and restores. It is this love that is the merciful love of God.
Pope Francis writes, “The mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality through which he reveals his love as that of a father or mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a ‘visceral’ love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness, compassion, indulgence and mercy.” (par. 6) When, in your life, have you experienced this type of merciful love? What impact did it have?
Receiving God’s mercy with gratitude impels us outward, to be instruments and witnesses of mercy to others. We are called to show mercy, because mercy has first been shown to us. Pope Francis reminds us that forgiving others and pardoning their offenses becomes one of the clearest expressions of merciful love. Refraining from judgement and condemnation from others is also an act of mercy, as human judgment tends to look no further than the surface, whereas God looks into the depth of the soul. Who in your life is most in need of your forgiveness, or the benefit of your doubt?