Catholic Outlook, Volume 19, March 2016
To help families enter more deeply into the Year of Mercy it is important that we unpack the meaning of the word mercy. In our popular culture, the word mercy is often used in association with pleas for clemency for people facing the death penalty.
This use of the term mercy is connected with the idea that someone who has power shows compassion by reducing the level of a person’s punishment.
In this context, mercy can be seen by some as a form of judicial weakness stemming from a ‘bleeding heart’. However, this understanding of mercy only captures a small part of its full biblical meaning.
The Old Testament used two particular words to express the mercy of God: hesed and rahamim. Hesed refers to God’s faithful love of Israel and is connected with a form of generous love that does not depend on whether it is deserved.
It is also related to a self-sacrificial love that remains strong despite the challenges that might test the relationship. This aspect of mercy is associated with the image of God as a bridegroom who loves Israel His bride.
Rahamim is a word that means womb-compassion. It is connected with the heartbreaking love that a mother has for her children. This sense of mercy portrays a feminine aspect to the mercy of God. It is also an aspect of mercy that is connected with strong feeling that springs from deep within a person.
These two aspects enable us to gain a deeper appreciation of the word mercy if we apply this richer meaning to works of mercy. One dimension (the hesed dimension) of these actions is that as all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God, they have a dignity that needs to be respected.
Consequently, as we are all human beings we have a responsibility to care for each other, especially the vulnerable. This care for the vulnerable should not stop at just an annual donation to Project Compassion or the Diocesan Works Fund.
The rahamim dimension of a work of mercy is that it should also be heartfelt. The more personal a work of mercy is, the more this dimension can operate.
For most people, it is in the family that we become acutely aware of the suffering of others. Our familial bonds make a call on us to provide help, but sometimes it can be harder to show mercy in our families compared to a stranger. The old saying “charity begins at home” also applies to mercy.
Pope Francis recently identified the family as “the first and most important school of mercy, in which we learn to see God’s loving face and to mature and develop as human beings.”
He sees that the family provides an antidote to individualism that creates a “kind of indifference towards our neighbours which leads to viewing them in purely economic terms.”
Family life is extremely busy but we should regularly make some time as a family to visit the less fortunate in our extended family or our local community.
This exposure will help form our children so that they will be less likely to spend too much time on Facebook and give mercy a face in the family and the community.
For some ideas on how your family can perform works of mercy click here
Please visit the new Diocese of Parramatta website and give us your feedback at www.parracatholic.org