By LINDSAY GLADU, Special to the Bulletin | Published November 13, 2014
ATLANTA—What does mercy look like on a daily basis?
It seems exhausting. Yet, we are called to distribute it abundantly. So how do you commit to a life of merciful acts and still keep up with life?
Author and managing editor of America magazine, Kerry Weber, spent 40 days on the task.
In her debut book, “Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned and Keep Your Day Job,” Weber chronicles her Lenten experience and efforts to apply the corporal works of mercy in her everyday life.
Recently, she came to Atlanta to recount her experiences with the Contemplative Leaders in Action group, a two-year spiritual leadership program for young adults founded on the ideals of St. Ignatius of Loyola and his Spiritual Exercises. Weber is a participant of the program in New York City where she resides and began her experiment. She is also an alumna of the Sisters of Mercy Volunteer Corps.
Her Lenten journey started as she and some volunteers were walking through Penn Station armed with sacks of sandwiches to give away to those in need. Naturally, when she had something to give, she couldn’t find anyone to accept the sandwiches, Weber told her audience gathered Oct. 26 at Ignatius House Retreat Center in Atlanta.
Finally, she found a group of men who needed food but didn’t have enough to feed everyone there. And once she made it home, Weber sensed that going through the motions of good deeds wasn’t enough.
“I feel a little bit defeated,” Weber said of her emotions after leaving Penn Station that night. “I feel like I’m not sure that this was what we were meant to do tonight. Was it just getting rid of the sandwiches or were we supposed to build relationship?”
The evening raised more questions than it answered for Weber.
So armed with a “mercy to-do list” fashioned around Matthew 25:34-37 and 40, Weber set out to identify how Christians could work together as a community to meet individual needs and how the ability to see Christ in other needy people affects how people live their lives.
“At the heart of my challenge was not the sense of how do I meet a minimum standard of calling myself merciful,” Weber said, “but rather ‘How do I do these works sincerely and in a way that is meaningful and actually fosters relationship with the people around me and with God.’”
During the 40 days of Lent, Weber learned how to evaluate her time and what was important to her: fewer reruns of “Breaking Bad,” more visits to the soup kitchen.
She started paying more attention to the small parts of her day. She thought more critically about why she was doing something, and why she wanted to do it.
In the process, she naturally adopted a more compassionate mindset by committing herself to seeing mercy in a new light and giving herself to it each day.
“What’s clear is that these encounters really challenge us to think more deeply about what it means to be merciful in the small events of our daily lives,” Weber said.
She emphasized that most people think of mercy as helping those in need outside of their social circle, and that’s true. But, she said, it’s also important to remember that acts of mercy are performed between family and friends every day.
Being a caretaker of a child or an elderly parent is an act of mercy. Feeding your family is an act of mercy. Praying with friends is an act of mercy.
For Marist School teacher Gina Parnaby, the biggest takeaway of the evening was “the idea of a practical application of mercy and the idea that it is something that is part of one’s daily life.”
Brad Hamrlik, co-director of Atlanta’s Contemplative Leaders in Action, said that Weber reminded him to challenge himself to find balance: not overexerting himself in volunteering efforts but not using a packed schedule to avoid doing anything.
“She inspires me to think about that again—about what else I could be doing in Atlanta,” he said.
Part of living a life of mercy is not being passive, Weber said. It’s making a connection with individual needs, whether you’re met with someone on the street in need of a sandwich or your child in need of a bottle.
Mercy is a verb—one that must be continuously and lavishly applied to exemplify God’s kingdom on earth and the mercy of Calvary.
As she writes in her book, “God challenges us to a lifetime—a lifestyle—of mercy.”
Taking faith to the next level
Contemplative Leaders in Action is a two-year leadership program for young adults (ages 25-40) rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Sponsored by the Jesuit Collaborative, CLA introduces participants to Ignatian spirituality and methods of discernment, and offers a faith-based community through monthly meetings, annual retreats, service projects, and opportunities for spiritual direction and mentoring.
CLA began in New York in 2008 and now has cohorts in Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Orange County, California, and Seattle.
Now in its third year in Atlanta, CLA invites anyone interested in this program to contact Kathryn Hamrlik at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.