In proclaiming an "Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy," Pope Francis has called us all to embrace mercy and recognize it as, "God's loving concern for each one of us." He states emphatically that God's mercy has no limits, and that all of us should strive to follow His example by always being ready to forgive.
The pope also points out that at times it is extremely difficult to forgive. Nevertheless, in his Bull of Indiction (Misercordiae Vultus), we are reminded that Jesus rejected sin, but never rejected the sinner. Because of this, God's forgiveness has no bounds, and thus neither should ours.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shows us wonderful, loving examples of limitless mercy as He shows special favor to the sick, the suffering, the poor, and all the marginalized. During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, we are all called to follow His example.
This becomes quite a challenge for many of us, as we live in a society where we come across those of whom it is extremely difficult to forgive and show mercy toward. When speaking of those circumstances, I like to use a term coined by one of my colleagues who describes mercy shown to most difficult sinners as "messy mercy." Many of us know an individual who can really challenge our desire to show mercy. I encountered an example of this through my ministry at Women & Children's Hospital in Buffalo.
A young single mom is forced out into the work force in order to support her newborn, as the father of the child has abandoned her. She makes a poor choice and allows her current boyfriend, who abuses drugs and alcohol, to babysit her infant.
One evening the baby starts to cry and he cannot get her to stop. In his drunken, drug affected stupor he shakes the child violently. As the child arrives at the hospital, her once beautiful face is so grossly swollen and distorted that she is unrecognizable.
Her mother stays by her side knowing that she will not survive. Showing mercy to the grief-stricken mother is one thing. However, aren't we asked to show mercy and forgiveness to all? Doesn't this include the boyfriend? This is a classic case of "messy mercy," where we must try to remember that Jesus' mercy has no bounds.
In the true sense of the pope's call, we must resolve ourselves to show "messy mercy." That is mercy and forgiveness toward the seemingly unforgivable, such as spousal and child abusers, drunk drivers who kill, and addicts who murder and steal from the innocent to support their habit, just to name a few.
This mercy is indeed messy. However, are we not to follow Jesus' example of mercy in these cases? Is it not our call to show mercy and pray for healing for these troubled children of God? If it is indeed so, it may be the most difficult task to take on for the coming Jubilee Year and life after.
Jesus showed mercy to everyone He encountered without exception. He even forgave His persecutors while on the cross. Now there you have the ultimate example of messy mercy. Here also is a clear picture of our charge, particularly in the coming year.
We must strive to show mercy and forgiveness to the most difficult recipients we encounter in life. It can get quite messy. However, through God's loving grace we can find the strength to carry out the spiritual work of mercy which calls us to forgive offenses. This also includes the messy ones.