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What it means to be ambassadors of mercy

by D.J. Florian

As a people of faith, we have come to know the mercy of God and recognize in the person and presence of Jesus the face of the Father’s mercy.

This jubilee year we will continue to embrace the great gift of mercy bestowed on us by our heavenly Father. Like the son who has returned to his father’s eager embrace, (Lk. 15) we rejoice in the realization of God’s great mercy and love.

The gift of the Father’s mercy in Jesus should evoke in us two qualities – gratitude and solidarity. These virtues will give life and determination to our witness before a world so in need of God’s healing mercy. Consider the response of the leper healed by Jesus. Ten lepers were healed, however, just one is praised as a true example of faith. Upon realizing he had been healed, the person (a Samaritan no less) immediately returned, “glorifying God in a loud voice, and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.” (Lk 17:15)

So we see that the first quality that the gift of the mercy will produce is a profound spirit of gratitude. This jubilee year (and our lifetime!) will be a journey to continually cultivate and enlarge our thankful hearts as we become more aware of the immeasurable and unending mercy of God. Secondly, the gift of mercy we have received and experienced will be the foundation and motivation for a deep, unflinching commitment to be a people of mercy. Understanding our solidarity and deep connection with all humanity is the natural, immediate result of the experience of God’s mercy. In fact, Pope Francis teaches us that how we share this gift of God’s mercy in action becomes “the criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. Jesus made mercy an ideal of life and a criterion for the credibility of our faith.” (Miseracordiae Vultus, 9) During this Jubilee of Mercy, we will be reflecting a great deal on the works of mercy. The Church traditionally offers us a list of seven corporal works of mercy and seven spiritual works of mercy. These are very practical and, in the end, inescapable elements of our active response to the gift of God’s mercy.

Each of us is called to be what Pope Francis refers to as “ambassadors of mercy.” In our homes, in our neighborhoods, in our schools, in our workplaces – we can be bearers of God’s mercy. Furthermore, in this jubilee year, we are challenged to break out of our routine lives and go the extra mile by actively seeking out those who are in need of the grace and peace of Jesus’ merciful touch. The notion of “jubilee” is an invitation to be “extravagant” ambassadors of mercy: merciful as our heavenly Father is merciful – without boundaries, without constraints, with our hearts full of solidarity for all humanity.

So, then, as we become agents and witnesses to mercy, we will be able, as a family of faith, to recreate our local parishes into “oases of mercy” for the life of the world around us. In a world too often experienced as a barren desert, bereft of true mercy and compassion, we will provide an oasis of healing and tenderness, because we ourselves have been touched and changed by mercy.

Pope Francis reminds us: "Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters.” (MV, 10) Now is the time, during this Jubilee of Mercy, to glorify God “in a loud voice,” echoing the leper who was healed. We find ourselves full of gratitude at the feet of Jesus and standing in solidarity with all humanity as ambassadors of the Father of Mercies.

D.J. Florian is director of pastoral services in the Diocese of Grand Rapids.