I was happy this year to tick the ‘Catholic’ box on the census to be counted as an Australian for whom faith matters.
I am proud to be a Catholic. This certainly doesn’t mean I think it makes me extra special or holy or odd, but it does make me feel that I belong to a faith tradition that looks outward compassionately towards others. We may be an imperfect Church, but in this Year of Mercy we are looking even more acutely into our collective soul to see if our words and actions match.
With friends I have discussed how the Year of Mercy has been made real for me. One of these friends told me of witnessing an act of mercy – a gentle timely intervention – when an obviously mentally unwell man entered a suburban church as Mass was about to start. As congregants squirmed and shuffled in their seats, discomforted by the unfolding scene, a religious sister with a wide smile, brave heart and the solicitude of a saint approached him. She spoke a few kind words, looked him in the eye and was able to calm him down. This was mercy in action and an object lesson that there are some people for whom the enacting of mercy is as natural as breathing. For the rest of us, we are still trying.
The good we do is all around us. It is in the night van volunteer who hands out hot soup, warm words and empathy. It is the palliative care chaplain who listens to last words and gently accompanies those who are heading towards another life. It was my father who did not charge to deliver babies to those young women who found themselves pregnant and unsupported.
It is mercy when someone does a bread run to ensure that a family has enough to make school sandwiches. It is mercy when a hostel such as Vincenpaul in Mont Albert provides something of a home life for a man who had no family, looking after him as he became confused, ensuring he was always treated with kindness, humour and dignity and a second helping of sweets at dinner. It is mercy when a group of indefatigable older women bake fruitcakes for Christmas with the money raised funding education scholarships for the poor in the Philippines. This is the mercy that changes lives.
Mercy is the Mini-Vinnies group collecting hygiene products for the homeless and the senior girls’ tally of 1000 cans to be given to the needy in the local community. Mercy is going up to a stranger who seems a bit lost at a large gathering and making them feel welcome. Mercy is noticing someone needs a bit of cheering up and deciding to give them the time they need to chat.
Pope Francis gives witness to mercy in his monthly Mercy Friday visits. In Rome, he has visited a community of elderly and infirm priests, patients in a hospice, the L’Arche community for the mentally ill, residents of a drug rehabilitation centre, women who have been trafficked and refugees.
As the Year of Mercy concludes and we begin to anticipate the blessings of the Christmas season, let us remember that the gift of mercy is something we can give to each other every single day of the year. We can continue to go forth and keep the habit of mercy alive and real for all whom we meet, in whatever circumstance, as we look ahead to the New Year and all that it promises.