A Vincentian View: “Beginning with Mercy”
As it has for many of you, this “Year of Mercy” has provided many blessings in my life. The privilege of preaching and presenting on mercy has enabled and demanded that I spend some time reflecting on what this virtue means for me and my relationships. My eyes have been re-opened to its beauty and importance.
Next year, the Congregation of the Mission (along with the Ladies of Charity) will commemorate its 400th anniversary. I have thought that preceding this celebration with a deep reflection on mercy offers a great gift. Pope Francis has sounded the call:
“The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person.” (Misericordiae Vultus, §12)
He has challenged the Christian community:
“Let us enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.” (Misericordiae Vultus, §15)
For those of us who feel that summons to preach the Gospel to the poor, mercy becomes a primary focus.
During this year, I have spoken about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Vincent would find attractive this combination of attention to the physical and religious needs of the poor. An emphasis on forgiveness which accompanies and defines mercy would also find its place in his pantheon. Lastly (for now), a consideration of the words and actions of Jesus around mercy—such as the parables and healings—would be central to our Founder’s preaching and teaching. One easily finds passages in the writing and thinking of Vincent and Louise which hold mercy as central to our ministry.
Many of us have probably reflected on this wonderful passage of Vincent:
“We must open our hearts so that they become responsive to the sufferings and miseries of the neighbor. We should pray God to give us a true spirit of mercy, which is in truth the spirit of God. The Church says that it is the nature of God to be merciful and to confer this spirit upon us. Ask this grace of God, my brothers [and sisters], that he may give us this spirit of compassion and mercy, and that he may so fill us with it that as soon as anyone sees a missionary, he immediately will think, there goes a person full of compassion. Think for a moment of how much we ourselves stand in need of mercy, we who must exercise it towards others. We must bring this mercy everywhere, and endure everything for the sake of compassion.”
Yes, a year of mercy sets the stage for living the Vincentian charism more fully. We can pray that, in this coming year, the Lord will enable it to be a guiding light in the way in which we minister with and for those brothers and sisters who know particular need.