Mercy is at the crux of both the Gospels and the teaching of the Church. Pope Francis challenged Christians to let go of fear to embrace the most desperate in our society just as Christ did.
Christians do not have a choice; we must exercise mercy because we have been shown mercy. “God has sent His Son! God has made Himself man to save us, that is, to give us his mercy. Jesus says it clearly, summing up his teaching to the disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Lk.6, 36).
The Holy Father compared the Church to a good mother and educator because she focuses on what is essential, and the essential, according to the Gospel, is mercy. “A Christian must necessarily be merciful, because this is at the center of the Gospel.” The Church behaves like Jesus because She does not simply give theoretical lessons on mercy, but teaches by example; words simply “serve to cast light on the meaning of her gestures.” Through the gestures of the saints, the Church reminds us to give food and drink to those who hunger and thirst, and to clothe those who are naked.
Yet the most powerful witness to mercy is through the concrete actions of fathers and mothers, who teach their children by example. Pope Francis explained, “In the most humble Christian families, the rule of hospitality is always sacred: there is always a dish of food and a place to sleep for those in need.” Francis then gave the example of a poor family in his former diocese who shared half of what they had to eat with a poor man who knocked at their door.
In addition to helping the poor, we must remember there are others who are desperate for our mercy. The pope exhorted us to be close to those who are sick by praising Christians who practice works of mercy. “Like the saints who have served Jesus in this way, there are many people who practice this work of mercy every day in hospitals, rest homes, or in their own homes, providing assistance for the sick.”
The Church also teaches us to be close to those who are imprisoned. Pope Francis challenged us to come out of our comfort zone, to ignore our fear and embrace prisoners as brothers and sisters in Christ:
“’But Father,’ some will say, ‘This is dangerous. These are bad people.’ Listen carefully: any one of us is capable of doing what these men and women in prison have done. We all sin and make mistakes in life. They are not worse than you or me. Mercy overcomes any wall or barrier, and leads us always to seek the face of the human being. And it is mercy that changes hearts and lives, that is able to regenerate a person or enable him to be newly reintegrated in society.”
It is fear that stops many Catholics from drawing near to those who have been abandoned and who die alone. The pope reminded us of what Mother Teresa did in Calcutta and others like her who are not afraid to take the hand of the dying. He explained why it is important to be with the dying. “Mercy offers peace to those who depart and to those who remain, making us aware that God is greater than death, and that by staying with Him, even the final separation is only ‘until we meet again.’”
Pope Francis constantly reiterated the centrality of mercy in the life of a Christian.
“The Church is a mother, teaching her children the works of mercy. She has learned this path from Jesus; she has learned that this is essential for salvation. It is not enough to love those who love us. It is not enough to do good to those who do good to us in return. To change the world for the better is it necessary to do good to those who are not able to do the same for us, as our Father did for us, in giving us Jesus. How much have we paid for our redemption? Nothing. It was all free. Doing good without expecting anything in return – this is what our Father did for us and what we too must do.” The Holy father concludes, “let us give thanks to the Lord, who has given us the grace of having the Church as a mother who teaches us the way of mercy, the way of life.”