Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Year of Mercy.
A friend told me she has been pondering the connection between compassion and mercy. She had read that compassion is being with and mercy is doing for. If that is true, than the Year of Mercy will suit me because I am much more inclined to be a doing for kind of person than a being with.
The question then becomes, “For whom will I do something?” which is closely followed by “What will I do?”
Every year, my parish participates in a shelter program for people who are homeless, this year offering overnight hospitality to twenty-five men during the week after Christmas. Like many shelter programs, the people go out during the day and return in the evening. But on New Year’s Day, the men were able to stay in for the day. I signed up to be a “host” for the afternoon.
It seemed a good way to spend New Year’s Day of the Year of Mercy.
I have volunteered at emergency shelters and meal programs in the past, and I have been on the verge of homelessness twice in my life.
I say “on the verge” because my homelessness was short-lived and connected with my living in another country; transitional homelessness is how I think of it. In both situations, I was fortunate to have friends who helped me find places to live, but the experiences gave me some insight into the vulnerability of not having a permanent place to live and helped me be more empathetic toward people who are homeless.
During that time of transition, I learned a lot about vulnerability and pride.
A woman who lived across the street from me and knew my situation offered me food from her pantry, but I was too proud to accept her charity and instead went to a local church pantry. When she found out I had gone to the church, she chastised me for being too proud and pointed out that I was willing to take charity from strangers but not from someone who knew and cared about me. She was right and I was humbled. The next time I needed food, I “shopped” in her pantry. It was very humbling.
That experience helped me to see that mercy needs both a generous giver and an open receiver. I was not open, and in the process, I prevented her from being able to be merciful. I had been given the opportunity to allow someone to be generous, and I said no. It was a powerful lesson, and one that I have tried to hold close to the surface of my awareness.
Mercy needs to be both offered and received.
So in this Year of Mercy, I want to be open to opportunities to do for others, to show mercy. I also pray to be humble enough to allow others to do for me, to receive mercy.