Mercy: The best of who we are – by Tracy Kemme
What an opportunity Pope Francis has given us in the Year of Mercy! It feels like something beautiful is dawning. It is a chance to rediscover and put forth the best of who we are.
A few weeks ago, I went to an Advent production at a local church. It is a fairly new and up-and-coming “mega church” that presents itself as “relationship, not religion.” The huge sanctuary filled up with people, including many young families, for the show. Outside the sanctuary, the building buzzed with activity. There was a coffee bar, couches, meeting rooms, and activities happening for people of all ages.
Strangely, I found myself sad as I observed it all. Not sad because something good is happening there. Clearly, many people are finding something for which they are seeking and delving deeper into a relationship with God. Not sad because it isn’t a Catholic church. Several of my closest friends are of faiths different than my own and I have always treasured the gifts of the many expressions of the Christian faith. I was sad because there was an energy there that my denomination of Christianity so often fails to communicate. The Catholic church less and less is a place that young adults call home.
On Christmas, I was talking to my cousin, who is a few years older than I am. She has two young daughters in Catholic school. While she loves their community of learning, she shared with me that she has some serious, deeply felt issues with the Catholic church. In fact, there are many things about the church that she “can’t stand.” I get it. I told her that I hear her and understand where she is coming from. But I also felt sad again. It is hard for someone like me who has dedicated my life through a vocation of the Catholic church to hear, time and time again, that many of my peers find nothing in the Catholic church to keep them there.
I have wondered myself at times, “Is the Catholic church still relevant? Will it continue to draw new members?” Through my journey as a Catholic sister, I have fallen more in love with the beauty of our faith and I can say a resounding, “Yes!” It is relevant. I do not think my church is perfect; far from it. I probably share some of the same concerns that my cousin has. But at the heart of Catholicism is a rich spirituality that floods my life with meaning and impacts the world in transformative ways.
Thank God, Pope Francis has brought much of what I love about Catholicism to the forefront of his papacy. In the Year of Mercy, he invites each of us into that journey of living our deep faith in concrete actions of love. Pope Francis invites us to follow his example, and, well, the example of Jesus. This call to mercy is a good reminder that as Catholics, we are, first and foremost, Christians — followers of Christ.
And, as Pope Francis says in Misericordiae Vultus, “Jesus Christ is the face of the [Creator]’s mercy. These words might well sum up the mystery of the Christian faith. . . .With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. . . .This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. . . .The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.”
Everything is mercy; nothing is devoid of compassion. That is why I love my faith. Following Jesus calls us to something extraordinary, even revolutionary. And that is still the heart of Catholicism.
The many beautiful things about Catholicism often get lost in discussions about more controversial teachings. The Year of Mercy is a chance to continue to change what people imagine when they think of the Catholic church.
[Tracy Kemme is a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati. Author of the blog, Diary of a Sister-in-Training, Tracy is excited about the future of religious life! She currently ministers at the Catholic Social Action Office in Cincinnati and as the Latino Ministry Coordinator at a local parish.]