Yesterday, in Rome, Pope Francis opened the Jubilee doors at St. Peter’s Basilica to kick off the Year of Mercy. He has declared this very special jubilee year , which runs from Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, because he wants the church and the world to reflect on the ideas of mercy and forgiveness. This theme of mercy has been very prevalent in his papacy.
I went to a high school run by the Sisters of Mercy called Our Lady of Mercy Academy. “Mercy” was everywhere but despite the Sister’s efforts sometimes it was easy to dismiss it as simply the name of the school and our sports teams. So, I took to the Oxford English Dictionary to look and see how they define mercy:
mercy, n. Clemency and compassion shown to a person who is in a position of powerlessness or subjection, or to a person with no right or claim to receive kindness; kind and compassionate treatment in a case where severity is merited or expected, esp. in giving legal judgment or passing sentence.
“No right or claim to receive kindness”?!?! How many people are there in our lives that we feel don’t deserve our kindness? I know that I am guilty of that feeling. Looks like I’m not exactly living up to my high school’s mission. Pope Francis must’ve had me in mind when he declared this special year. Teachers, do you have a student to whom you sometimes find it difficult to show kindness or compassion? Then maybe this Year of Mercy is for you too.
In Catholic tradition we relate to mercy through the 7 corporal and 7 spiritual Works of Mercy:
Corporal Works of Mercy:
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To ransom the captive;
- To bury the dead.
Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To admonish sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To comfort the afflicted;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
I don’t know about you, but many of the teachers that I know practice as many of those Works of Mercy each day. Maybe we don’t have the means to provide students with the Corporal Works of Mercy but I know that 6 of the 7 (maybe all 7 if you are a religious person) Spiritual Works of Mercy must be exercised in order to help and entire classroom of children be successful.
Coincidentally, this Year of Mercy for the Catholic Church started on the 50th anniversary of the close of the Second Vatican Council. One of the main reasons for Vatican II was to move the church into a new phase with new understanding and new hope. I think that the lesson that John XXIII taught us by calling Vatican II is that we do need to stop and take a look at ourselves so that we can move forward with better understanding. Sounds a lot like what teachers know as being a reflective practitioner.
One of the hardest Works of Mercy for me to do is to bear wrongs patiently. When someone or something wrongs me my blood just boils. Whether you are Christian or not, as we wind down to the Christmas break, I encourage you to pick a Work of Mercy and start doing it or if you already practice it, strive to do it better and more often. Compassion shown to a person who is in a position of powerlessness could be a small act but it could have big consequences for good. Happy Jubilee Year of Mercy!