By Valentine Umoh
It was very timely that the Holy Father Pope Francis proclaimed from December 8, 2015 (Immaculate Conception) – November 20, 2016 (Christ the King) an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, in his April 11, 2015 papal bull of indiction, Misericordiae Vultus. He characterized it as “a new stage in the journey of the Church on its mission to bring to every person the Gospel of mercy.” Giving a Homily while announcing this in St. Peter’s Basilica on March 13, 2015, the Holy Father asserted: “I am convinced that the whole church will find in this Jubilee the joy needed to rediscover and make fruitful the mercy of God, with which all of us are called to give consolation to every man and woman of our time.” Before Jesus ascended to the Father, he promised to send his apostles the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled this promised on the day of Pentecost which marked the birth of the Church. One of the many functions of the Holy Spirit as emphasized by our Lord Jesus will be to lead the Church to the complete truth (cf. John 14:26). And so, the Holy Father has not erred in proclaiming the Year of Mercy. The 21st century society is characterized with series of confusions in words, actions and intents. Series of wars, crimes, violence, killings, abortion, kidnapping and hostage taking, religious fanaticism, terrorism, moral depravity, sex-mentality, corruption, hatred, rancour, calumny, detractions, back-stabbing, betrayals, stealing, economic oppression, social media abuses, discriminations, racial rivalry, political rivalry and the list is so endless. In fact, the 21st century society has almost lost its conscience. The holy year of mercy comes as a voice of one that cries in the wilderness, that amidst the confusions and dissenting voices in society that man should look up to the mercy of God as well as reciprocate that mercy in his/her fellows. For as the Holy Writ has it “Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy.” If the Church will ever make any statement in such a confused society in this Year of Mercy and beyond, the youths which form a vibrant majority need to identify themselves not only as witnesses of God’s mercy but also and more importantly as Agents and Apostles of God’s Mercy to the world.
The Mercy of God
Mercy simply means compassion for those suffering or in distress. The divine mercy or Mercy of God is that property of God’s will whereby He expresses His kindness toward man in his sorrows and afflictions, and especially toward repentant sinners.
God’s mercy is described by Adolf Darlap as the readiness of God to come to the aid of his distressed creature out of free grace. Man’s primal experience of God as the God of mercies, compassion, and forgiveness is recorded in many ways in the books of the Old and New Testaments. In theology, mercy is axiomatically predicated of God as one of his essential attributes, because being infinite in every perfection, His just and holy nature precludes all cruelty and unfair severity.
The Dictionary of Biblical Theology allows that the words mercy and compassion be used interchangeably. The Old Testament (Hebrew) uses various terms when it speaks about mercy. The most meaningful of these are hesed and rahamim. The first, when applied to God, expresses God’s unfailing fidelity to the Covenant with his people whom he loves and forgives for ever. The second, rahamim, which literally means “entrails”, can be translated as “heartfelt mercy”. This particularly suggests the maternal womb and helps us understand that God’s love for his people is like that of a mother for her child. That is how it is presented by the prophet Isaiah: “Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you” (Isa 49:15). Love of this kind involves making space for others within ourselves and being able to sympathize, suffer and rejoice with our neighbours.
The biblical concept of mercy also includes the tangible presence of love that is faithful, freely given and able to forgive. In the following passage from Hosea, we have a beautiful example of God’s love, which the prophet compares to that of a father for his child:
“When Israel was a child, I loved him; out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the farther they went from me… Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, who took them in my arms; I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks… I stooped to feed my child” (Hosea 11:1-4).
Despite the child’s wrong attitude that deserves punishment, a father’s love is faithful. He always forgives his repentant children. We see here how forgiveness is always included in mercy. It is “not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child… It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy.”
The New Testament (Greek) speaks to us of divine mercy (eleos) as a synthesis of the work that Jesus came to accomplish in the world in the name of the Father (cf. Matt 9:13). Our Lord’s mercy can be seen especially when he bends down to human misery and shows his compassion for those in need of understanding, healing and forgiveness. Everything in Jesus speaks of mercy. Indeed, he himself is mercy.
In Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel we find the three parables of mercy: the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal (lost) son. In these three parables we are struck by God’s joy, the joy that God feels when he finds and forgives a sinner. Yes, it is God’s joy to forgive! This sums up the whole of the Gospel. “Each of us, each one of us, is that little lost lamb, the coin that was mislaid; each one of us is that son who has squandered his freedom on false idols, illusions of happiness, and has lost everything. But God does not forget us; the Father never abandons us. He is a patient Father, always waiting for us! He respects our freedom, but he remains faithful forever. And when we come back to him, he welcomes us like children into his house, for he never ceases, not for one instant, to wait for us with love. And his heart rejoices over every child who returns. He is celebrating because he is joy. God has this joy, when one of us sinners goes to him and asks his forgiveness.”
In Latin, compassion is derived from compatire, compassio, which is linked closely with misericordia and pietia. It is the capacity of being moved by the fragility, weakness or suffering of the other. For instance, the wound of the other person pushes you to take a risk outside yourself, to get lost to yourself for the good of the other. It means an imperative assistance for the other. This is not always easy because it is not natural for man who is tended to be a “homo homini lupus.” Although man was created for the other, wounded by original sin man became a wolf unto his fellows in an attempt for self-preservation.
Mercy and compassion can also take the form of sympathy. Sympathy itself is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with and paschein which means ‘to experience’ or ‘to suffer.’ It means experiencing things together with other people, literally going through what they are going through. This is precisely what many people especially the youths do not even try to do. Most people are so concerned with their own feelings that they are not much concerned with the feelings of anyone else. When they are sorry for someone, it is, as it were, from the outside; they do not make the deliberate effort to get inside the other person’s mind and heart, until they see and feel things as that person sees and feels them. If we did make this deliberate attempt, and if we did achieve this identification with the other person, it would obviously make a very great difference. Little wonder then, William Barclay translates the fifth beatitude thus: “O the bliss of those who get right inside other people, until they can see with their eyes, think with their thoughts, feel with their feelings, for those who do that will find others do the same for them, and will know that that is what God in Jesus Christ has done!”
I Desire Mercy not Sacrifice…
I desire mercy and not sacrifice – is taken from the Prophecy of Hosea chapter 6 verse 6 of the Hebrew Scripture. “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” gives us the foundation for true religion. This statement points to the essential character of the Biblical God. God is hesed (steadfast love, faithfulness, mercy, loving kindness, faithful love, pardoning grace, covenant faithfulness, goodness, loyalty). God’s hesed, faithful and merciful, is constant in comparison to Israel’s hesed which is like a transient morning cloud (cf. Hosea 6:4). Thus, God experiences “disappointment and anguish” (cf. Hosea 6:6). Despite this disappointment, God’s hesed becomes pardoning grace”. God wills shalom. Hesed is “an act of inner faithfulness and therefore of grace.” Hesed is a matter of ultimate concern for Yahweh. Hesed, then, must also be the ultimate concern of humanity. The hesed God desires hesed from humanity.
The Hosea passage is quoted and re-read twice in the gospel narratives by Jesus (cf. Matt 9:13, 12:7). Matthew’s Gospel 12:1-8, has it that as Jesus and His disciples were going through the grain fields on the Sabbath, His disciples began to pick the wheat and eat the grain. The Pharisees immediately jumped on this “violation” of the Law (cf. Exod 20:8-11) and accused the disciples of working on the Sabbath. According to the Pharisees, plucking wheat from its stem is reaping, rubbing the wheat heads between one’s palms is threshing, and blowing away the chaff is winnowing! Jesus, however, disputed the Pharisees’ claim, using three illustrations. First, he cited an event in the life of David (cf. Matt 12:3-4). As he fled from Saul, David was given the consecrated bread which had been removed from the tabernacle (cf. 1Sam 21:1-6) and was normally reserved for the priests alone (cf. Lev 24:9). David believed that preserving his life was more important than observing a technicality. Second, the priests in the temple were involved in work on the Sabbath (cf. Matt 12:5; Num 28:9-10,18-19), yet they were considered blameless. Third, Jesus argued that He Himself was greater than the temple (cf. Matt 12:6; “One greater” in vv. 41-42), for He is Lord of the Sabbath, that is, He controls what can be done on it, and He did not condemn the disciples (the innocent) for their action. The Pharisees were splitting hairs with their technicalities about reaping, threshing, and winnowing. They failed to understand compassion for people’s basic needs (in this case, the disciples’ hunger; cf. Deut 23:24-25) but were intense in their concern for the sacrifices (rituals). Jesus reminded them of the words in Hosea 6:6, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, that is, inner spiritual vitality, not mere external formality.
In both instances, however, Jesus speaks of the hesed (NT Greek – eleos) of God which is overflowing pardoning love for sinful humanity. The God of Jesus is ever ready to show mercy (cf. Lk 1: 5 8, Eph 2:4, 1Pet1:3). “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” Jesus exhorts (Lk 6:36).
The Father ever intends to create an enriching wholesome human relationship by teaching us that ‘what we are’ is more important than ‘what we have.’ “I desire what you are and not what you have.” We must not forget that the astronomical amount of resources we poured into war preparations and wars in the twenty first century comes from our reverse reading of this; “I desire what you have not what you are.” Hesed must not be translated into the English word “charity”. The idea of charity is paternalistic. It flows from the fortunate to the less fortunate. The Christian tradition teaches that the love (agape) emanates from Jesus Christ when was completely peripherized and marginalized on the cross. “He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Mk 15:32). The hesed of God flows from the crucified to those who are not crucified. We commend charity. But we must remember this extraordinary reverse flow when we say the word “charity.”
Merciful like the Father: Catholic Youths as Agents of God’s Mercy in the 21st Century
The motto for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy “Merciful like the Father” calls us to reciprocate the mercy of God in our neighbours.
The Word of God teaches us that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). That is why the fifth Beatitude declares that the merciful are blessed. We know that the Lord loved us first. But we will be truly blessed and happy only when we enter the divine “logic” of gift and gracious love, when we discover that God has loved us infinitely in order to make us capable of loving like Him, without measure. Saint John says: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love… In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another” (1Jn 4:7-11).
How can Catholic Youth become agents of mercy in our troubled 21st century?
A catholic youth becomes an agent of mercy through a better understanding, appreciation and appropriation of the mercy demands of Matthew 25, where Jesus presents us with the works of mercy and tells us that we will be judged on them. A catholic youth must therefore try to rediscover the important value of the corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, assist the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead. Nor should a catholic youth overlook the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, teach the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the sorrowful, forgive offences, patiently bear with troublesome people and pray to God for the living and the dead. Mercy does not just imply being a “good person” nor a mere sentimentality. It is the measure of our authenticity as disciples of Jesus, and of our credibility as Christians in today’s world. In practical terms, The Holy Father suggests that you choose a corporal and a spiritual work of mercy to practice each month and try to be consistent for seven months.
A Catholic youth becomes an agent of mercy when he learns how to forgive those who offend him. One of the most obvious works of mercy, and perhaps the most difficult to put into practice, is to forgive those who have offended us, who have done us wrong or whom we consider to be enemies. The Holy Father confirms this thus: “At times how hard it seems to forgive! And yet pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” Remember that Gospel passage that says that if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gifts (cf. Matt5:23-24). Mercy is a much-needed attitude in the process of reconciliation.
So many young people are tired of this world being so divided, with clashes between supporters of different factions and so many wars, in some of which religion is being used as justification for violence. We must always pray the Lord to give us the grace to be merciful to those who do us wrong. Jesus on the cross prayed for those who had crucified him: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Mercy is the only way to overcome evil. Justice is necessary, very much so, but by itself it is not enough. Justice and mercy must go together.
A Catholic youth becomes an agent of God’s mercy when he acts as an ambassador of peace, unity and reconciliation not only in the Church but also in the family and the larger society. A Catholic youth should not fuel crises but should help restore broken human relationship and breach of friendship. He/she should be an ambassador of peace. He/she should be an arbiter of unity in the Church and society.
Being an agent of God’s mercy means getting into the shoes of the other person and feeling what the other feels with the other. This singular act of compatire (feeling with) will move you to an action in favour of the other. It means shunning all acts of indifference towards our neighbour. Through hatred, rancour, fighting, back biting, bickering, gossips, calumny and detraction in our CYON we have become instrumental to the falling away from the faith of some of our brothers and sisters. Through a careless and unholy way of life we have scared others who indicated interest to be one of us. These are acts of indifference in another form. In his Sermon on the Mount, Christ admonished his disciples that their light must shine in the presence of men so that seeing their good works they may give glory to their Father who is in heaven (cf. Matt 5:16). A Catholic youth becomes an agent of God’s mercy when he or she is able to overcome an emerging culture of indifference in the society. A culture of indifference is a culture that lacks interest or concern in what affects the other person. It is a culture that is insensitive to the needs of the other. It is a culture that refuses to feel with the other. It is a culture that lacks solidarity with the other. It is a culture that reclines towards itself in an I-alonism and solipsism. It is a lack of interest about what is happening to the other person. It is a culture of withdrawal, distancing and aloofness. One overcomes this culture only through an attitude of mercy that urges him to get involve in the concerns of the other.
A catholic youth becomes an agent of God’s mercy when he or she becomes his/her brother’s and sister’s keeper. In Gen 4:9, when Cain killed his brother God called him and said: Cain, “where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” God continued, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground (for vengeance)!” Whenever we fail in our duties and responsibilities towards being a companion to our brothers and sisters, we kill them (psychologically and spiritually). God will always demand from us an account of our fallen and lost brothers/ sisters especially in this CYON.
CYON…let your light shine. Your light as a Catholic youth cannot shine unless you embrace mercy and compassion towards your fellow men in the society, towards your colleagues in school, your business partners and associates. Your light as a catholic youth cannot shine unless you shun indifference and embrace concern and solidarity with the other. Your light as a catholic youth cannot shine unless you are ready to join hands with the priests, religious in your parish to sow the seeds of the evangelization of our people. You will be a catholic youth when you are ready to join hands with the other organizations of this parish, that is, CMO and CWO to move the Church forward. My dear friends, let us use this occasion of the 2016 youth rally in our parish to reconcile recurrent and perennial conflicts; to forgive those who have wronged us in the past and to show mercy towards the weak members of our CYON and parish.
When was the last time your helped fetch water or firewood for that old woman (widow) living in your neighbourhood who have been seemingly abandoned by her children? When was the last time you visited and prayed for a sick CYON member? When was the last time you visited a CYON member whose world seems shattered by the demise of his/her parents/benefactors? When was the last time you called a youth member whom you know is not well-to-do and asked how he or she was faring and offered some meaningful assistance? When was the last time you talked to that brother and sister who have stopped coming to Church for whatever reason and discussed with him about coming back to the faith?
We are all children of the one God who has revealed himself in history as a merciful Father. This God of ours demands reciprocity of the mercy we have received. Mercy not towards Himself, but rather towards our neighbours; our various families, the Church and civil society. Whenever we reciprocate this mercy of God, then and only then do we live up our calling as agents (witnesses) and apostles of God’s mercy in our troubled world.
Let us conclude this lecture with a reflection on the prayer of Saint Faustina, a humble apostle of Divine Mercy in our times:
“Help me, O Lord,
… that my eyes may be merciful, so that I will never be suspicious or judge by appearances, but always look for what is beautiful in my neighbours’ souls and be of help to them;
… that my ears may be merciful, so that I will be attentive to my neighbours’ needs, and not indifferent to their pains and complaints;
… that my tongue may be merciful, so that I will never speak badly of others, but have a word of comfort and forgiveness for all;
… that my hands may be merciful and full of good deeds;
… that my feet may be merciful, so that I will hasten to help my neighbour, despite my own fatigue and weariness;
… that my heart may be merciful, so that I myself will share in all the sufferings of my neighbour” (Diary, 163).
Thank you for your attention
CYON…Let your light shine!
 Originally a lecture presented to the General Assembly of Catholic Youth Organization of Nigeria, St. Anne Catholic Church, Abiakpo Ikot Essien on their 2016 Youth Week celebration at the Church Auditorium, Ikot Ekpene – Nigeria.
 John STEINMUELLER and Kathryn SULLIVAN (eds), Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, J. F. Wagner, 1956.
 A. DARLAP, “Mercy” in Karl RAHNER (ed), Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise Sacramentum Mundi, London: Burns & Oates, 1975, p. 954.
 Cf. Ps 4, 2; 6, 3; 9, 14; 25, 16; 107; Exod 3:7ff; Jer 31:20; Isa 49:14ff; Luke 15:20; 2Cor 1:3 etc.
 Xavier LEON-DUFOUR, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, New York: Burns and Oates, 1982, p. 351.
 POPE FRANCIS, Papal Bull Misericordiae Vultus, April 11, 2015, 6.
 POPE FRANCIS, Angelus Message, 15 September 2013.
 William BARCLAY, The Gospel of Matthew, vol 1, Bangalore: TPI, 2009, p. 121.
 G. BROMILEY (ed), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in one volume edition, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985, p. 223.
 Bernhard W. ANDERSON, Understanding the Old Testament, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2006, p. 308.
 For an in-depth study see John F. WALVOORD & Roy B. ZUCK (eds), Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, Colorado: David Cook Publishing company, 1983.
 Cf. Misericordiae Vultus 13.
 Misericordiae Vultus 9.