If there is one thing for which the great Saint of Assisi is revered, it’s his peacemaking (feast day: October 4). Pope Francis, through the Year of Mercy is building on his namesake’s priorities and calls us all to seek peace in our homes.
Pope Francis’ peacemaker mission is clearly articulated in his Jubilee Year of Mercy which begins in December 2015. Through it, he has invited all to seek the Mercy of God, so that we too can be more generous with our own mercy.
While it’s easy to think of situations in public life where this might apply, it’s in the battle ground of our intimate relationships that mercy is most urgently needed. We’ve known families that have such deep emotional wounds, that some members go to their grave twenty or forty years later without speaking again to a sibling, parent or child.
At the recent World Meeting of Families, one of the most touching and impactful activities was the shrine to Our Lady, Undoer of Knots. Based on a baroque painting, this unusual Marian title illuminates Mary’s unique ability to untie what can seem like a hopelessly complicated situation.
By the end of the week, the makeshift shrine on the streets of America’s fourth most populous city was a tribute made up of thousands of fluttering white ribbons upon which people had written their personal pleas to Our Lady. Being part of this event and having the opportunity to read some of them, it struck us that the vast majority called for peace in the home and the restoration of familial relationships. It was very moving to witness Pope Francis bless the shrine in his impromptu stop on the way to the papal Mass adding his prayers to the anguished pleas of the everyday faithful.
When we’re wounded by another, it is especially hurtful if that other is someone close to us and on whom we relied for acceptance and love. Love makes us vulnerable, and when it is betrayed, even in seemingly minor ways, like a careless comment or thoughtless gesture, the wounds can cut deep.
Our sensitivity sets us up for further hurt as we tend to scan the other’s words and actions for confirmation of our grievance. Instead of looking for evidence of their positive regard, we examine everything from the perspective of the injury. Thus, even minor wounds, when left unresolved, can easily multiply into major breaches of relationship.
The only way to break the cycle of injury and resentment is via forgiveness. Forgiveness is not an emotion; it’s a process we go through and a decision we make. It is something we can either embrace or resist.
Whether or not forgiveness is followed by reconciliation, forgiveness itself is a choice for spiritual freedom and emotional liberation. Forgiveness allows us to conquer the destructive impact of resentment in our lives. But it’s not always as easy as it sounds. Pride and self-righteous anger weigh in to discourage us from pursuing it.
Which is why mercy always begins with God. When we are convicted of our own need for God’s mercy, our hearts are opened to offer that same mercy to others. Mercy is a grace that springs from the very heart of Christ. Mercy is the vital disposition that enables forgiveness to occur in a wounded heart. And when we submit ourselves to divine mercy, forgiveness flows readily. And from there, reconciliation is possible.
Mercy is the grace. Forgiveness is the action. Reconciliation is the result.
In this Year of Mercy, let us begin at home.