Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
What year is it?
Let’s face it: 2016 has been a harsh year. There are so many hard-hitting stories with the deaths of many of our favorite musicians and actors, seemingly routine but always appalling terrorist attacks, Zika outbreak, Brexit. The Rio Olympics just ended. Oh yeah, people are playing Pokemon Go again and Blink 182 has a hit song out. What year is it?
There have also been some pretty major events in the Catholic Church this year — World Youth Day, the death of our sweet Mother Angelica, and the upcoming canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. As for me, I came back from Afghanistan this year, started writing for the Register, moved to Japan, wrote a book on St. Robert Bellarmine, overhauled epicPew.com, and witness the birth of my third child. All this, and it is only August. Oh yeah, I turn 30 on Friday. What a year.
There’s more, unmentionables, that are going on too, a lot of negativity within the Catholic world and even more polarity with the upcoming elections to which there seems to be no clear win for a Catholic. What year is it again?
Forget 2016, that’s just a number. A way for us humans to chronicle the lunar movements and the seasons. This is the year of Mercy: a time where we are called to pursue and share that powerful Christian virtue which is limitless, endless, and timeless. You can’t put a number on that.
We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.
I didn’t write that last paragraph. Pope Francis did. And I think many of us have forgotten that this is the Jubilee Year of Mercy. I think we look around and see a lot of negativity, when we ought to see a world of opportunity to be merciful. Perhaps – right now – you should re-read the Bull of Indiction, Misericordiae Vultus. This is no mere call from Pope Francis to act decent in public, pass the butter at dinner, and smile to strangers. This is the time to learn how to show extraordinary forgiveness to those whom we dislike, disagree with, and amend relationships that have been destroyed.
This is our year to show that Catholics are different. Our model of mercy is not giving up a seat on the bus. Our model is when Jesus looked to those crucifying Him and said nothing but His plea to His Father for their forgiveness for heinous and ignorant sins. We take very seriously the merciful example of the Good Samaritan, who was willing to carry, heal, care for, watch over, and remit any further debt for a person who was considered to be as polarizing to his culture and tribe as dark is to light.
It’s not a mistake that Pope Francis opened the Year of Mercy on December 8, which is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This is the single most important event in salvation history, the one that reached back to the very first stories of humankind’s sin in the Garden, and culminates in the mercy of the Hypostatic Union, which was the most incredible, improbable, and disturbing event in the history of the world.
Pope Francis, in fact, opened the Year of Mercy on December 8 for a better reason, and one that is actually more relevant now than ever. That is because December 8 was the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Second Vatican council. Can we think of a more divisive topic? Pope Francis reminds us:
We recall the poignant words of Saint John XXIII when, opening the Council, he indicated the path to follow: “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity… The Catholic Church, as she holds high the torch of Catholic truth at this Ecumenical Council, wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children”. Blessed Paul VI spoke in a similar vein at the closing of the Council: “We prefer to point out how charity has been the principal religious feature of this Council… the old story of the Good Samaritan has been the model of the spirituality of the Council… a wave of affection and admiration flowed from the Council over the modern world of humanity. Errors were condemned, indeed, because charity demanded this no less than did truth, but for individuals themselves there was only admonition, respect and love. Instead of depressing diagnoses, encouraging remedies; instead of direful predictions, messages of trust issued from the Council to the present-day world. The modern world’s values were not only respected but honored, its efforts approved, its aspirations purified and blessed… Another point we must stress is this: all this rich teaching is channeled in one direction, the service of mankind, of every condition, in every weakness and need”.
Mercy, as difficult as it is, is the basic Christian act. It’s the backbone of our faith, really. Pope Francis says, “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.”
I fear very much for those looking to the Catholic Church for potential conversion and membership. Many – SO MANY – of us were converted from the resources we found online. The Digital Church is truly the pulpit from which Peter continues his conversion of the crowd. Do we think for a moment that these people are not observing us online, at work, in traffic, and after we exit the pews of our parishes? What would it look like if the apostles were there, arguing, and spitting curses among the 3000? We seriously need to remember the basic Christian quality of mercy. Myself included.
Everyone who masters an event, art, performance, topic, study, and sport must return to the basics from time to time. So I’ll leave this post with three quick reminders of how to practice easy mercy.
First, mercy is in the way we act. We are commanded to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. If we have an enemy, or take disagreement to such a level of enmity, we have but the perfect opportunity to be merciful instead. As an act, mercy embraces forgiveness in debt and in repute.
Second, mercy is in the way we talk. Sometimes, silence is a better mode of evangelization and mercy altogether. The phrase we’ve heard since we were children, “If you have nothing nice to say…” is better put by Paul: “He that would love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking guile” (1 Peter 3:9, RSVCE).
Third, mercy is in the way we pray. If you haven’t found that layer of mercy in your daily life, pray for it. If you’re currently in a spot where you’re feeling desperate to not burst into anger, pray. If you’re about to correct someone, pray for that person instead.
[The Church] knows that her primary task, especially at a moment full of great hopes and signs of contradiction, is to introduce everyone to the great mystery of God’s mercy by contemplating the face of Christ. The Church is called above all to be a credible witness to mercy, professing it and living it as the core of the revelation of Jesus Christ. From the heart of the Trinity, from the depths of the mystery of God, the great river of mercy wells up and overflows unceasingly. It is a spring that will never run dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because the mercy of God never ends. The profundity of the mystery surrounding it is as inexhaustible as the richness which springs up from it. – Pope Francis
Please, remember what year it is.