Heeding the call of Pope Francis

Of all the things that Pope Francis has said and done during his still brief pontificate, his insistence that we extend mercy to others as God has shown mercy to us remains front and center.

It is no wonder, then, that the Holy Father announced the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy that will begin Dec. 8, 2015 - the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - and extend through Nov. 20, 2016 - the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

In his Sept. 1, 2015 letter to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, Pope Francis said that he wishes "that the Jubilee be a living experience of the closeness of the Father, whose tenderness is almost tangible, so that the faith of every believer may be strengthened and thus testimony to it be ever more effective."

This Holy Year of Mercy has as its special focus the words of Jesus: "Be merciful, even as Your Father is merciful." (Luke 6:36)

While indicating concrete directions for how all the faithful may benefit from the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, the Holy Father states: "I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

"The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus Himself taught us," said Pope Francis.

The faithful are encouraged to seek additional information about how the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy will be commemorated, including how to obtain the Jubilee Indulgence, from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization (iubilaeummisericordiae.va) as well as from their local bishops and pastors.

We, the followers of Jesus Christ, have inherited a rich patrimony of mercy. The virtue of mercy is well attested-to in both sacred Scripture and the apostolic tradition.

Christ Himself has summoned us to be merciful. Who of us can forget the parable of the unmerciful servant? In his Gospel, St. Matthew recounts Our Lord's words to Peter and His disciples about the man who was forgiven but then refused to grant that mercy to his neighbor who owed him money (Mt 18:21-35).

Centuries ago, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologica that mercy "takes its name 'misericordia' from denoting a man's compassionate heart (miserum cor) for another's unhappiness." He continued: "Mercy signifies grief for another's distress."

In the Dictionary of Moral Theology published in 1962, Benedictine Father Dom Gregory Manise asserted: "Mercy, founded on compassion, differs from compassion or the feeling of sympathy insofar as mercy implements this feeling with a ready desire to render assistance - the essential element of mercy. The works of mercy are the methods or actions which express this desire."

In his encyclical, "Dives in Misericordia," St. John Paul II joined in the analysis of mercy: "Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called 'to practice mercy' towards others: 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.' The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. All the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of life, but the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly eloquent in this regard. Man attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy, to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the spirit of that love towards his neighbor."

May we be grateful for the clear voice of the church and that of its sons and daughters in enunciating the pressing need that we have to be merciful as Jesus is merciful to us.

How do we increase in the virtue of mercy? Look no further than the seven sacraments of the church. By our participation in the sacraments of penance and the most holy Eucharist, our souls become more immersed in grace - the very life of God.

Embrace opportunities to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead.

In his book, The Mother of the Savior and Our Interior Life, Dominican Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange addressed the subject of Our Lady as the Mother of Mercy: "The title of Mother of Mercy is one of Mary's greatest. Mercy is not the same thing as mere emotional pity. Mercy is in the will, pity is but a good inclination of the sensibility. Pity, which does not exist in God Who is a pure spirit, leads us to suffer in unison with our neighbor as if we felt his suffering in ourselves. It is a good inclination but usually a timid one, being accompanied by fear of harm to ourselves and often helpless to render effective aid."

Here comes Our Lady. She, along with her Divine Son, Jesus, offers to us a pattern for our efforts to be merciful. In fact, the Son and the Mother are the template for our attempts to pardon others: "She teaches us, though, that if mercy is not justice it is not opposed to it as injustice is, but unites itself to it and goes beyond it: most of all in pardoning, for to pardon is to go beyond what is demanded by justice in forgiving an offense."

Father Garrigou-Lagrange explained that Our Mother of Mercy, to whom Pope Francis has entrusted the preparations for the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, "reminds us too that God often gives us His mercy more than we need, more than He is obliged in justice to Himself to give; that He gives us more than we merit - the grace of Holy Communion, for example, which is not merited."

Reflect on how the merciful Ever-Virgin is for us, in the words of the Litany of Loreto: "Health of the sick, refuge of sinners, comforter of the afflicted, help of Christians."

We desperately need God's mercy. And our brothers and sisters desperately need that we extend it to them. Pope Francis is profoundly aware of various "serious problems" today that call forth mercy from us, especially that regarding the lack of respect for human life.

Our sacred duty is before us. Receive God's mercy and convey it to everyone.

Msgr. Mangan is a priest of the Diocese of Sioux Falls, S.D.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015