Try a little tenderness

Can you believe that it is January again? Perhaps like you, as I reflect upon my passing days and my mortality, I am determined to use my life and my blessings in ways that matter. I want to be a revolutionary. There is so much to consider like my faith and relationship with Jesus, my family and my community. They all matter.

When I was considering what resolutions I wanted to place on the table for 2016, like many people I wanted to become healthier and more fit as well as become more organized. No doubt, being a good steward of my body and surroundings matter. However, there seemed to be something greater gnawing at my heart. It wasn’t until after the Advent and Christmas seasons that I found my answer in Pope Francis’ Declaration of the Extraordinary Year of Mercy.

You may recall that Pope Francis announced this event on April 11, 2015, which was Divine Mercy Sunday and the Jubilee Year began on Dec. 8, 2015, with the opening of the Holy Door of Mercy in Rome. When I finally took time to read and reflect upon Pope Francis’ writings in light of the Gospel and our church teachings, I realized how amazing this opportunity is. This inspired invitation and event has the potential to change individuals, families, work places, parishes, nations, etc.

Through this year of mercy we are being called to a “revolution of tenderness” and like the old army draft posters, I see Jesus pointing his finger at me saying “I want you!” To acknowledge sinfulness and to be able to give and receive mercy isn’t life threatening but it does take us to uncomfortable and unknown places. It exposes our deepest fears, prejudices and hurts. It challenges our selfishness and pride. Yet, Jesus spoke and lived mercy and as his professed disciples, it is our path as well.

In this month of resolutions, the question becomes, “How do I take this year-long opportunity and turn it into a tangible reality that helps to transform ourselves into the presence of Jesus in the world?” When the Holy Door of Mercy is closed on the feast of Christ the King next November, how will I have become more tenderhearted in word and action?

The place to start is acknowledging our sinfulness and realizing that God through Jesus offered us his mercy through the cross. Asking God for forgiveness and offering our gratitude are key telltale signs that we fully understand the depth of God’s mercy. You and I are also called to take the asking for and the offering of forgiveness to our families and into the streets. Do I need more prayer time or do I need to send a note or make a phone call?

Taking mercy to the streets and into the world requires a lot of soul searching. The lenses of fear, prejudice and judgment are pretty difficult for you and me to lie down even though Jesus taught us well. I have a sense we are in for a real look at the dark side during the upcoming election year and it is disheartening. With God’s grace, we can stay the tenderness course.

The church has also given us a road map in the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. So many of our ancestors understood and lived mercy like St. Mother Teresa and Blessed Dorothy Day. I am overwhelmed when I consider the depth of their love and mercy. Their legacy and work lives on through the Sisters of Charity and the Catholic Worker Movement. In their own ways, both women were revolutionary and they continue to be the face of Jesus in the world through those who have joined the revolution.

There is no doubt that I need to resolve to be a good steward of God’s mercy. I need to receive it gratefully, nurture it responsibly, share it generously and return it to God in abundance and I need to begin in my innermost circles as well as branch out to the larger community.

One of the most beautiful statements from Pope Francis on mercy (Misericordiae Vultus) is: “The church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God, the beating heart of the Gospel, which in its own way must penetrate the heart and mind of every person.” The image of mercy as the life-giving mechanism has added a richer dimension to my journey. When Pope Francis closes and seals the door in November, I want my heart to be a little larger.

Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.