Easter: 'A time for you to join this great wave of mercy'
Michael C. Barber, SJ
When I was appointed by Pope Francis to be a bishop, almost three years ago, one of my tasks was to choose a motto for my coat of arms. I quickly settled on the phrase, "God the Father of Mercies," a title for God that is used in our Catholic prayers for the Sacrament of Penance. Mercy is at the core of what I want to be as a bishop.
I was thrilled when, seemingly out of the blue, Pope Francis declared a Year of Mercy last November. Now, the entire Catholic Church is celebrating mercy, from Dec. 8, 2015 through Nov. 20, 2016. It is a virtue that seems to have fallen out of favor; I'm so grateful that Pope Francis is bringing so much attention to mercy.
What is mercy, though? Mercy is when love encounters suffering. We become merciful when our feelings of affection or compassion activate us to alleviate suffering. For Christians, the great Easter Triduum is three days of remembering how Jesus Christ gave us the ultimate definition and example of mercy, loving humanity so much that He willingly suffered and died for us, so that we could receive eternal salvation.
We know that human suffering happens in a myriad ways. The Catholic Church has recognized for centuries that we can engage in both spiritual and corporal works of mercy.
Spiritual works of mercy allow us to help ease people's suffering through our prayers and personal responses. Often, people are comforted just knowing that you are praying for and with them. It may not be fashionable in today's world, but I can't tell you how many times people who are quite wealthy financially or are in important leadership positions ask me to pray for them — and they are serious about it!
Corporal works of mercy are what Jesus went around doing in the Bible. When people were lame, or sick or even dead — he took away their physical suffering. He healed them, fed them, gave voice to the voiceless and set people free from bondage.
Every day in Alameda and Contra Costa counties — the area of the Catholic Diocese of Oakland — there are opportunities for each of us to practice these corporal works of mercy. From the Catholic Church alone, we have soup kitchens, free legal clinics, schools, social services, health care and hundreds of other means to be merciful. We are in the process of opening a safe house for victims of human trafficking. Forty-four of our 84 parishes have volunteered to sponsor refugee families.
Other examples are at a website that we created for Pope Francis' Year of Mercy: jubileeofmercy-eb.org. All are welcome to join us, but I'm sure your church, synagogue, mosque or civic organization would have opportunities as well.
For my fellow Christians, may this Easter be a time for you to join this great wave of mercy that proceeds from the heart of Christ. Regardless of your faith perspective, as fellow human beings who want to build a better world, I ask that you consider what a world built around mercy would be. I believe that mercy can unite us, giving all of us a peace and spiritual joy that satisfies our deepest yearnings.
[Bishop Barber wrote this for people of all faiths during this Easter season and Jubilee of Mercy.]
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