Years ago, I had a parish secretary who was one of the most magnificent women I’ve ever known. Her name was Mary. She had a large family, a wonderful husband, kids who made her crazy — and a most profound and wonderful life of faith. One day, while chain smoking in the office, she was pontificating about life, people in general and all sorts of other things that either irritated her or made her ponder. In the midst of it all, she told me of her great prayer — for everything: “My Jesus, mercy!” It was her mantra. Simple and direct; her prayer sums up so much of what Pope Francis is expressing in this Jubilee Year of Mercy. My Jesus, mercy!
From the very first time Pope Francis celebrated the Angelus with the crowds at St. Peter’s Square, the 266th successor to Peter the Apostle and the bishop of Rome was focused on God’s mercy. What he said that day has tremendous application for our own lives now as we celebrate this Jubilee Year of Mercy. That first Angelus prayer, with that massive crowd, was March 17 – the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The pope focused on the Gospel of that day, which spoke of the woman caught in the act of adultery. In God’s great Providence, we heard that very same Gospel in this Jubilee Year of Mercy on March 13 – the Fifth Sunday of Lent. The point of all this is, when the pope offered his first “gift,” if you will, of his pontificate – a call to ponder and revel in God’s mercy – he was preparing us for this Jubilee Year of Mercy. “Without God’s forgiveness,” the pope announced, “the world would not exist!” He made it fairly clear that Divine Mercy, and our pondering it, would be a priority for Catholics, in particular, and people of goodwill, in general. If nothing else, the pope has remained focused on his design to concentrate on God’s plan of mercy for humanity.
Pope Francis calls us to recognize that we would not exist without God’s mercy – how true. Mercy in the Garden of Eden; mercy at the Tower of Babel; mercy in the flood; mercy in the life and death and resurrection of his son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, we must remember: Mercy in and through the sacramental life of Jesus’ Church, and, most profoundly, mercy in the sacrament of penance. All of these moments call for an awareness of our NEED for God’s mercy.
This Jubilee Year of Mercy is not meant to be a sentimental pause for us to do something like a New Year’s resolution or a half-hearted promise to give up something for Lent – it is an opportunity for us to consider that we are capable of doing things that can only be undone by the mercy of God! We are called to a conversion of heart and an awareness of God’s LOVE for us, his forgiveness and his mercy.
Dear Mary died some years ago. I think of her fondly and smile when something happens about which she would wrinkle up her nose and simple say: “Doofus!” I recall her zeal for prayer and each day, as I celebrate the holy Mass, at the consecration when I elevate the sacred body and blood of our Savior, I quietly say: My Jesus, mercy.
In conclusion, I call your attention to a story concerning the Venerable Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen. It is about a particular visit with a man dying with a cancer on his face. The man remained unrepentant on his deathbed, refusing to confess his sins and receive viaticum. He, in fact, ordered the bishop from his room. Bishop Sheen is reported to have told the man, “Before you die tonight; please do one thing for me; say, ‘My Jesus, mercy.’” It was later reported to Bishop Sheen that, after he left the room, the dying man said the prayer, and continued to repeat it until his death that night.
Pope Francis reminds us: “We would not exist without God’s mercy.” What hope and what joy it brings to those who desire to convert and strive to live in that rich gift of God’s mercy. My Jesus, mercy!