People often reflect on a year at its close which for us westerners is 31st December, my grand daughters birthday. But the Pope decided last year to start his year of mercy on 8th December ending it on 20th November 2016 – so not quite a year then! There now seem to be a number of “year end” celebrations etc so its a good time to get in first.
The year started with lots of doors opening and being decorated and named as Doors of Mercy. They were mainly in churches and were existing doors anyway so I did wonder about this bit. Then there followed a papal encyclical called Laudate Si and a sort of summing up of a big gathering to discuss the place of the family, love and stuff by the Bishops of the church. The Pope called his summing up Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love. That was other folks year of mercy.
For me it started when I spent a day in Bristol studying the Laudate Si and Amoris Laetitia. To be fair it probably started earlier when I first read the Laudate Si. It reads like a Green Party statement of intent. The english subtitle “Care of our common home” gives it away a bit but it really was an amazing moment. Suddenly someone had set down our responsibilities not in a finger wagging way but firmly and with love and encouragement. That most of it is addressed to all of us, christians, non christians, those with faith and those with none also made it refreshing. Not a book for the initiated but actually if you were the initiated then it was a big wake up call.
So after that away day I was asked to do a few reflections based on a pilgrimage idea from Cafod. The idea was to see how refugees were treated and felt as they moved across our inhospitable continent. In leading a couple of these and then speaking about Cafods work supporting those less fortunate than us across the world I gained an insight into what we could do. Because that seems to be the key message about Mercy – its a doing word as my grand daughters would say!
And the first doing thing I concluded I should do is be grateful for what I have and stop wanting what I haven’t got.In England today we have most of what we need, particularly if like me you’ve retired after a life’s work in public service. The next thing is to be aware of all those around you who do not have what they need; particularly respect and dignity. Which seems an odd thing to major on but I refer you to Laudate Si for that explanation. Suffice to say if you are living in poverty without sufficient food in grotty rooms you do not feel too good. Maybe Ken Loach puts it better in his new film, I Daniel Blake.
And now comes the doing bit and I struggle with this. Its about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. Giving my bit to Cafod and the Salvation Army over the years is good but is it good enough? Well no. Talking about the poor and dispossessed is good but what’s talk if nothing changes? And here I want to look further afield beyond my horizon.
With the rise of the far right ultra nationalists across Europe then the Leaving vote on 23rd June and now the real possibility of Donald Trump being president there seems only unremitting gloom. Elsewhere wars carry on unabated, chemical weapons, starvation as a weapon and mass killings almost fade from the news; no longer newsworthy. Our fabulous health service, our social care indeed seemingly all our public services built up over years are dismantled. All around there seems unremitting gloom and despondency.
So my friends this is where I and the Pope came in. We can spread not just love, not just happiness but a real sense of compassion, of mercy and Gods care for all of us and our beautiful home, planet Earth. Its not a wishy washy thing. A pious hope for better to come. Its about here and now showing that goodness pays, fairness is right and all of us have an absolute right to Dignity and Justice.
So when someone says smile please do it. the world needs all the smiles it can get and from those smiles flow compassion, understanding, sympathy and a real connection between all human beings. And in this darkness thats a whole lot of doing!