Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Little Bit of Mercy

- in my meditation garden -

Today Pope Francis comes to the United States for a five day visit – I can honestly say that in my entire life I can’t remember a time when the arrival of any world figure had as much impact on the entire country as the visit of this pope.

While he certainly has his critics and detractors, the vast majority of Americans, along with people throughout the entire world, believers and non-believers alike, all really seem to love Pope Francis. He has become somewhat of a superstar in his own right – over the next days, millions are expected to come out to greet him, to watch him on TV, listen to his speeches and follow his itinerary.

I’ve been reflecting on why Pope Francis has become so enormously popular among so many people. In one sense, he is very much a continuation of previous popes - in fact many of his formal teachings do little more than extend what other popes have said. But in anther sense, Francis is very different from all the others. In fact he is very different from almost any other world or national figure; and to me, what makes him so different is his ability to show mercy in almost everything he says and does.

Many commentators have distinguished Francis as a “Pope of Mercy.”

Just after he became pope, Francis said:

A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.

The word mercy is a word that is not used very often in our everyday common language; and while mercy is sometimes equated with forgiveness, the two are not the same. We show mercy when we embrace another (or accept ourselves) with gentle kindness and compassion even as we recognize faults, failures and imperfections.

Whenever I have seen or heard about Pope Francis I have never heard him stridently judging others, never berating others from a position of arrogance. Rather, I almost always see him “showing a little bit of mercy”  - kindness even in light of the faults and failures of human imperfection, kindness to saints and sinners, rich and poor, people of faith, atheists and agnostics. To me, this is exactly what makes Pope Francis so popular and so admired throughout the world.

We would all do well to practice a little bit of mercy in all our lives.

Yesterday I learned something about the meaning of “mercy” as I stood in the checkout line at our local supermarket. As a cashier from another line came over to help his fellow employee bag my groceries, he jokingly said to me,  “she can always use a little help.” The guy behind me in line responded, “yeah, can’t we all?” I then put in my own “two cents” by quoting a phrase from a plaque I keep near my desk at home:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

After I offered that little quote, one might have thought that I had just revealed some sort of “hidden secret of the universe” because everyone just sort of “stopped in their tracks.” The cashier said, “Wow, you can say that again,” The guy behind me: “Ain’t that the truth?”

Somehow we all understand that each of us is “fighting a hard battle,” that’s the nature of life. We experience deep joy and we have all known moments of success, yet we also have our own struggles, our imperfections, our secret sins, our frustrations and our disappointments.

Everyone is fighting a hard battle, and because we recognize this, we are all called to be kind to one another.  When we do this, we are in fact, showing a little mercy.

A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.

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