A grandmother’s lessons about mercy

A grandmother’s lessons about mercy


As a former Mercy Volunteer I am inspired that Pope Francis dedicated 2016 as the “Year of Mercy.” As Francis notes: “this Extraordinary Year is itself a gift of grace.” What gifts are you searching for or offering in this New Year?

I have spent most of my life contemplating on the idea of mercy. As a little girl growing up in rural Jamaica my grandmother, a dedicated Catholic woman, was my main caregiver and faith support who ensured that I received my sacraments.

One of the greatest reflection questions Mama constantly challenged me with was: How can we show others the mercy of God? She would remind me of the desperate poor in our midst: the lonely, the isolated, the marginalized, the victimized and those who spent their lives in constant struggle.

I was frequently reminded to offer those who were most in need my attention and love. This is now my theological understanding of mercy. Interestingly, these are not the people many of us choose to spend our days with or our lives. Mama’s invitation was a challenge of grace, nothing to intellectualize, simply an encounter to live: an applied theology.

Though we didn’t have much, she incessantly reminded that we had mercy to offer.

How can we offer mercy to others? That was what I wrestled with most.

I pondered this as I got to my middle school and high school years. Many of the desperately poor were not people I knew or would ever be able to help economically. I am sure as my ministry students read these reflections they too are confronted and conflicted by the same questions.

Mama’s daily response was:

— “Pray”: she prayed for the suffering poor till the moment she took her last breath. I learned this recently from a nurse.

— “Open your heart”: See through the eyes of your heart. Feel people’s pain.

— “Don’t ignore people:” One of the best gifts you can offer people is a smile, so make contact. “You can’t be that busy to not be able to say a kind word or acknowledge a person.” Therefore we spent many days and nights visiting the sick, inviting those who were lonely to our tiny dwelling and sharing the very little we had.

— “Ask for mercy”: I had no idea why this was important; however, I would later understand that my decisions could directly or indirectly have an impact on people’s lifestyle, their well being or their livelihood. People globally are affected daily by my choices; therefore, I have a responsibility to my brothers and sisters near and far to be a good neighbor.

My grandmother was a compassionate Catholic, one who lived with the poor and amidst the poor. She herself did not have much, a widow who sacrificed all she had for her one daughter, my mother. Mama’s life was a literal example of faith, which I never understood. Why did I need to share my one slice of birthday cake or share my one cup of ice cream at Christmas? Through my theological understanding and reshaped vision I would later realize that this is Eucharist: our call, our responsibility to be mercy and to live mercy!

I would soon come to understand that you share from your poverty since this was all we had: that was the glory of mercy that we channeled to others: that was simply our lived experiential faith.

“We cannot ignore those suffering,” Mama would say. Even in her fading stages, her prayer was for the poor people who were isolated, sick and dying. “If someone needs a job you find one with them, don’t just tell them you will pray!”

On Dec. 8 Pope Francis opened the Holy Door of Mercy. How can we open our own doors of mercy through our hearts? How can we offer grace to others?

Living in Camden and working in full time parish ministry gives me the opportunity to daily live the principles of mercy which Mama offered and lived so beautifully. I realized that living in Camden, a place many people scoff at, is a place of holy communion. There are numerous people who reflect the love of my grandmother: people who live mercy, people who are the epitomes of grace. My neighbors now, mainly non-Catholics, are a people “full of grace” (Lk 1:28). Many are people who choose to remain in the city to restore hope.

As Pope Francis highlighted in his homily: “The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history.” Therefore, our actions need to authentically reflect God’s mercy.

During this time of incarnation and contemplation may we take the time to examine our own biblical course of action: I continue to wrestle with these moral inscriptions.

— Take time to process and encounter mercy and grace with those around you.

— Reflect on how you can you live this through an authentic daily ministry of presence.

—Evangelize with joy!

Sherine Green is director of Youth Faith Formation, Christ Our Light Parish, Cherry Hill.

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