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Here's How to Live Mercy

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By Fr. Joseph, MIC (Mar 6, 2014)
This Lent, let's journey with the saintly Popes of mercy. Why? Because this Divine Mercy Sunday, our "Mercy Pope" Francis will be canonizing two other great Popes of mercy: Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II. And all three of these Popes provide us with powerful examples for our spiritual growth. In what follows, let's reflect on what each one of them has to teach us about living mercy this Lent.

For those who lived during his pontificate, Pope John XXIII is easily recognized as a pope of mercy. Popularly known as "Good Pope John," people could plainly see the gentleness and love in his kind and joyful countenance. Also, he is most famous for calling the Second Vatican Council, which has a rich theme of mercy.

Finally, John XXIII is warmly remembered for Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth), his acclaimed encyclical letter on peace. In it, he addressed "all men of good will" during the Cold War, publishing it on April 11, 1963, only two years after the Berlin Wall was erected and several months after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In view of Blessed John XXIII's example, we can challenge ourselves this Lent by asking, "Does my face radiate the joy and gentleness of Christ? Or do I often look angry, impatient, and severe? Is my attitude toward other sinners one of love and mercy? Or am I judgmental and self-righteous? Finally, am I a peacemaker among my friends and family, or do I stir things up by contributing to discord and tension through my gossip and the need to justify myself before others?"

In the case of John Paul II, we have someone who not only powerfully proclaimed mercy — for instance, he wrote a whole encyclical letter dedicated to it — but he also put it into action. Most memorably, he forgave Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to assassinate him, even going to visit him in prison.

Following John Paul's example, we can ask ourselves, "Do I also pray for and, if possible, visit those who have hurt me? Do I strive to forgive? Or do I hold grudges, give others the silent treatment, and refuse to forgive?"

Finally, regarding Pope Francis, in less than a year of being Pope, he has already been proclaiming mercy and giving examples of it with a frequency that seems unprecedented. Almost every homily, every gesture, everything about him is suffused with humility and mercy. He is constantly seeking out the lost sheep, the lonely, and the downtrodden. At the same time, he is clearly not afraid to exercise the "severe mercy" of courageously calling out those in the Vatican curia and the Church who live not for the flock but for themselves. Seeing the photos of Pope Francis embracing the sick, the weak, and the broken, and reading about his latest battles against corruption, I can't help but recognize in our present Holy Father the figure of our Lord manifest in the Gospels.

And so, inspired by Pope Francis's example, we can ask ourselves this Lent, "Do I also have the heart of the Good Shepherd, a heart that is sensitive to the poor, the weak, and the suffering? Do I also have the courage to address the injustice and corruption that may be in my family, community, and in my own heart?"

I hope these reflections on three great Mercy Popes — John XXIII, John Paul II, and Francis — will help challenge us to live mercy this Lent. Specifically, following their examples, I pray that we will all strive to become more kind, loving, forgiving, peaceful, courageous, and mindful of the suffering and the poor. If we do, this Lent will bear a rich harvest of mercy in our lives, and we'll be able to celebrate this Divine Mercy Sunday to the full.

In preparation for the canonizations of Blesseds John XXIII and John Paul II on April 27, we've gathered some of the highlights of the papacies of both men. Visit our resource page.

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