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This week, a comment on one of my past posts really grabbed me by the throat. It was from a nouveau ami français, Michel Fauquet, who explained that the French word for “mercy,” misericord, derives from the Latin for “heart dare.” Well, knock me flat.

Mercy is often considered something for soft-hearted folks. Wasn’t “no mercy” part of the evil Cobra Kai bylaws? (That’s a “Karate Kid” reference, by the way.) To show mercy is to show humanity, and, ultimately, humanity is pretty soft and squishy. Right? Nope.

Mercy takes strength. It is a dare of the heart, and not an easy one, either. It may be the greatest dare we ever receive. Do you dare have mercy for those on the margins, for immigrants, for Muslims, for those who make different choices than you might? Do you dare to open your heart and listen to views that oppose your own? Do you dare to be potentially changed by what you hear?

The following reflection is a part of my own constant struggle with mercy:

Let my heart rule my hand.
Let mercy pervade, seeping
as water onto paper,
blearing lines, bleeding letters,
softening words into
mounds and crosses,
untended graves for
faint, forgotten faults.
Smoothed like creases on linen;
a note written in a foreign hand,
indecipherable, and, in any case,
unread.

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Pope Francis, in his great wisdom, has named 2016 the Year of Mercy. Yet a number of us seem confused by what exactly “mercy” means. It’s like forgiveness, but not quite. Like empathy, but not quite. Like forbearance…but not quite.

The world is greatly in need of mercy right now. Mercy takes us out of ourselves and causes us to look with compassion at those around us. If we all did that — and then acted on what we saw — in what grand and spectacular ways might we change the world? It is a thought worthy of poetry.

What is mercy?
Nothing much. An eye
turned outward. A seeing.
One heart bursting
its home of bone
to say, “I see you.”
To say, “I’m sorry.”
To say, “You matter.”

What is mercy?
It is a choice of roads:
one narrow, one broad.
It is leaving home
for a foreign place,
learning the language,
feeling it on the tongue.
Grasping the verbs, the adjectives.

What is mercy?
It is a bearing of burdens,
balm, bread, blood.
It is entering the wider door,
apprehending the aerial view.
It is naming each stone,
tenderly, but letting it lie,
in the manner of itself.

I’ve got to tell you, I’m getting a little fed up. From a survey that reveals that American voters believe Jesus would come down even more conservatively on social issues than they themselves do (voting against same-sex marriage, for instance) to the closed-minded nastiness I read in the comments section of virtually every religious-themed internet article…well, I simply despair. We’ve got it all wrong, folks.

Anyone who believes that Jesus would respond with anything less than complete mercy and love — in any situation — is DEAD WRONG. Children emigrating to escape crime and poverty? Jesus would be there with his arms open wide to embrace them. Two people wanting to sacramentally celebrate their love and commitment? Jesus would be on hand to preside. He’d probably provide the wine for the reception, too.

As usual, in times of trouble, I turn to poetry.

Mercy

Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine, too).
Mercy is the bigger picture.
Mercy is the wider door.
Mercy admits it does not know
everything, or everyone’s heart,
and chooses to walk with compassion instead
of blocking the path to this one or that.
Mercy admits all comers.
Mercy takes a chance.
Mercy opens its arms, bleeding
on a cross and says, “You too,
and you.”
Mercy does not pass judgment.
Mercy does not cease.
Mercy is Christ’s mantra (it
is mine now, too).

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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