Published March 19, 2015 | En Español
Like countless students before me, I was first introduced to many famous poetic citations through the masterpieces of William Shakespeare. That extraordinary author captured many emotions and sentiments in words that simply defy comparison. One of these famous quotations comes from “The Merchant of Venice,” wherein he has Portia describe the virtue of mercy. Admittedly, most literary scholars acknowledge that the circumstances of this now famous quotation involve a context of anti-Semitism, but Shakespeare’s description of the virtue of mercy is nonetheless inestimable.
“The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Shakespeare highlighted the dignity and the splendor of mercy. Pope Francis has repeatedly referenced the importance of mercy in our life of faith. Now the Holy Father has designated a Jubilee Year of Mercy to begin on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception this year and to conclude on the Solemnity of Christ the King Sunday in 2016.
Pope Francis’ frequent emphasis on the virtue of mercy has not gone without criticism. Some people suggest that an over-emphasis on mercy only subverts the virtue of justice. Others confuse mercy with reckless indulgence.
The Holy Father’s many references to mercy always point first to God’s mercy toward all of us that consequently compels us in turn to be merciful to all others. The truth is God has been recklessly merciful toward each one of us—constantly tempering His justice with His compassion in every one of our lives—forgiving us our sins, faults and mistakes.
There are a few other words that we have heard that also disparage the idea of mercy—amnesty being among them. But God’s mercy is so much more than simple amnesty. Amnesty is a political term. God’s mercy restores our very human dignity. God is the Father of Mercies and has lavishly granted His mercy in all of our lives. We only have to recall that reality to understand the true meaning of mercy.
A Jubilee Year of Mercy is a deeply biblical experience. Jubilee years were established in the Old Testament at 50-year intervals that sought to reset human relationships. Debtors were to be forgiven their liabilities, and prisoners and slaves would be set free. A jubilee year was a season of mercy—a divine lavish mercy for all.
In our Church, jubilee years are seasons for indulgences to be granted and reconciliation is to be offered more freely. The last Jubilee Year was 2000—the Great Jubilee called by St. John Paul II in commemoration of the new millennium.
Pope Francis has now invited us to celebrate a Jubilee Year dedicated to mercy—God’s mercy toward us and our response of mercy toward all others as a consequence of God’s lavish forgiveness and compassion.
Most of us may be content with mercy when it refers to the mercy that others extend to us—too many folks only seem to find mercy a problem when they, in turn, are asked to extend it toward others—either politically or personally. Remember the parable of the absent-minded servant who received his master’s mercy but then quickly was unmerciful to a fellow servant? (Mt 18:21-35)
During the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy, Pope Francis invites the entire Church to refresh our memories by recalling all the mercy that we have received from the Hand of God and then extend a merciful hand toward all others.