Pope Francis has declared a jubilee year of mercy during which the Catholic Church collectively celebrates and reflects upon the mercy of God and the forgiveness of sins.
In order that Campus Ministry might share in this celebration, we have started a series for our website related to the theme of mercy. These reflections will not only represent the Christian view of mercy, but also provide interreligious perspectives of mercy. This is our Campus Ministry “Mercy Project.”
The reflections that will be shared periodically throughout the year are personal, they are sincere, and they have been written by men and women from our St. Thomas community. We hope that you enjoy reading them and that in response you take some time to ponder what mercy means in your own life...
The Mercy of the Most Merciful
In Islam, all Muslims refer to the creator of the universe and mankind as Allah. This is just arabic for “The God” which actually holds much more meaning than stating God by itself. It implies that he is the only one worthy of worship, and there is nothing like him. Allah describes himself in 99 different ways in the Quran. One of the attributes of Allah that is repeated millions of times in the noble Quran, is that he is The Most Merciful.
Allah is the Most Merciful, and there is no such being in existence that is nearly as merciful as Allah is. The amount of mercy of Allah is impossible for a human to comprehend. Our noble Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him(PBUH), mentioned to his companion the amount of happiness Allah feels when his servants comes back into repentance, and Allah has the opportunity to show mercy to one of his servants. He said in the authentic book of Imam Bukhari, “Allah is happier with His servant
who repents than the happiness one of you would feel if he was wandering in a barren wasteland to find his steed had wandered off with all his food and provisions. Then, after the heat and his thirst become severe, he falls asleep in the same place and wakes to find his steed standing before him, so that he grabs its reigns and says: “O Allah! I am your Lord and You are my servant”, mixing up his words on account of his extreme joy.” [S ahih Muslim (2747)]. Our messenger told us that Allah is so merciful and accepting of his servants, that when one decides to repent to him for his wrongdoings, he becomes happier than a traveler who experiences extreme joy to the point where he mixes his words! You would have to be the happiest person in the Universe to make such a mistake! There would be no person who knows this that would lose hope in their afterlife.
To make you understand a little more on how impossible it is to limit the level of mercy Allah has, is to compare it to our world. Let’s picture someone who is the most merciful guy or gal for you were to ever know. In most cases, it would be a mother to her child in general, but you could picture who would be more merciful. If the child were to eat a cookie from the cookie jar when they were not suppose to, maybe because of his cuteness the mother may forgive him when he asks. If he did it again the next day, the mother may forgive him again, to show mercy on the child. What about the third day? The fourth? The fifth? Sooner or later, the mother will get tired of forgiving him and will punish him immediately. But with Allah, glorified be he, told our messenger Muhammad, PBUH, that he said, “...I have granted forgiveness for my slave, let him do as he pleases.” The explanation of Allah’s statement was that as long as his slave continues to recognizes that he has a lord who forgives and punishes for sins, he will no matter what continue to forgive us when he asks. Allah told this to his people to give hope for those who felt despair because of the amount of sins they knew they committed. But Allah responds to them by showing how there is no limit to his forgiveness.
In Islam, We believe that Mercy is one of the most known attributes of Allah from the 99, because of how important it is in our faith. This also says something about our humanity, that we depend so much on the mercy of our lord. If there is no mercy from our lord on someone, they are eternally doomed. So if the mercy from our lord is that important to obtain, how could someone not show any mercy to their peer? As we ask for mercy from the most high, we must also show mercy to others, otherwise there is a sign of hypocrisy, and our society will not be an healthy environment we would all wish it to be.
The Mercy of God, the Father
by: Dr. Susan Stabile
I can still remember the first retreat I did following my return to Christianity after practicing Buddhism for twenty years.
I arrived at St. Ignatius Retreat House in Manhasset, New York, feeling a desperate need for God’s mercy. It would take me at least several years to appreciate how my years as a Buddhist both helped me develop a sense of spirituality that I had previously lacked, and contributed to my understanding and practice of Catholicism; at that time – less than two months after I began to again view myself as a Christian, I felt that I needed to atone for “turning my back” on God during the years I was a Buddhist.
Over the course of that retreat, I came to realize how much God desired for me to abandon the distorted view that I needed to be made to suffer for my years of practicing Buddhism. I also came to understand how important it was for me to look at those years more gently. As I wrote in my journal one day: “How can I accept God’s healing, how can I believe that God welcomes me home, if I do not forgive myself? How can I truly trust in God’s love and mercy without loving and accepting myself?
This was an important realization. I had been so focused on “Susan the sinner” that I had no ability to see “Susan the beloved child of God.” Too focused on a sense of my own wrongdoing to embrace the love and mercy of God. During the retreat I began to shift my gaze from myself to God, allowing me to begin to feel – to truly understand at a deep level – how much God loved me and how much God wanted me to experience myself as the Beloved I was in the eyes of God.
One of the passages my retreat director had given me to pray with one day was the parable of the prodigal son in St. Luke’s Gospel. The first couple of times I prayed with the passage were not very successful. I found it quite easy to feel the suffering experienced by the prodigal son when he realized he had blown it. I also had no trouble relating to the anger of the older brother when his father prepares a great feast for his profligate younger brother. But I had much more difficulty accessing the love of the father for the prodigal; I could not feel the depth of the father’s desire that his son know how much he loved him and had desired his return.
As I continued to pray with the passage, however, I began to feel the love of the father for his child who had returned to him, and that allowed me to feel God’s love for me. I was able to allow God hold me in his loving embrace. It was a comforting and secure feeling, a feeling that helped me believe that I was forgiven, that helped me see how much God wanted me to accept myself and to trust in his love.
The evening after I prayed with that passage, as I sat in the retreat house chapel after dinner, I felt an overwhelming sense of God’s mercy. I was totally enveloped in a feeling of God’s love that was almost too much to bear and I felt amazement and gratitude that someone as undeserving as I felt could be so loved. At the moment that thought went through my head, I was struck by the image of the prodigal son I had earlier been praying with and I felt God’s joy at my being there. “All this,” I felt God say, “just because you are here.” That was perhaps my first deep experiential apprehension of God’s unconditional love. I felt in a way I had not before that I had never lost God’s love and that I could not ever lose that love. That God’s love was fully and freely offered to me, as it was to each of us, without having to be earned or deserved. Such an important insight, yet one that is often so hard for us to accept: that we need to do nothing to earn God’s love, that it is not about “deserving” that love. It is always freely offered.
In the book of Ezekiel it is written that “God’s mercy can make even the driest of land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones.” I think that is a fair statement of what my retreat experience did for me. It renewed me. It restored me. It became an impetus for a desire to find ways to be a vehicle for others to experience more deeply God’s love and mercy.
Year of Mercy - An Explanation and Invitation
by: Fr. Erich Rutten
This past Spring, Pope Francis proclaimed that this coming year would be celebrated as a special jubilee “year of mercy”. This jubilee year officially began yesterday, December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and will extend till Sunday, November 20, the Feast of Christ the Universal King.
The purpose of such a year is to encourage deeper reflection, prayer, and action related to the reality of God’s great mercy for us and for the world. This year is a time for us all to experience God’s love and God’s mercy in new and deeper ways by asking to receive God’s mercy ourselves and acting to concretely share God’s mercy with others.
In introducing the Year, Pope Francis said, “We are called to look beyond, to focus on the heart in order to see how much generosity everyone is capable of. No one can be excluded from the mercy of God; everyone knows the way to access it and the Church is the house where everyone is welcomed and no one is rejected. Her doors remain wide open, so that those who are touched by grace may find the assurance of forgiveness. The greater the sin, the greater the love that must be shown by the Church to those who repent. With how much love Jesus looks at us! With how much love He heals our sinful heart! Our sins never scare Him.”
For more information you can visit the official website: http://www.iubilaeummisericordiae.va/content/gdm/en.html
This video explains a bit more: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0nKv086aBw
Here in Campus Ministry, we hope to engage in a variety of activities to support our celebration of the Year of Mercy. These include additional opportunities to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation and times for Eucharistic adoration. We are looking at organizing a mini-pilgrimage to the Cathedral to go through the Holy Door. We hope to offer a series of movie-nights to explore themes of mercy in movies. Our VIA and VISION programs, which are all about offering mercy in service to others, will reflect on various understandings of justice and mercy.
Finally, we will be asking a variety of people from across the University community to share reflections on God’s mercy from various faith perspectives; whether Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, or Native American. Others who write for us might share a particularly strong personal experience they’ve had of mercy. If you are interested in writing a reflection, please contact Colleen Murphy.
Please join us in exploring God’s Mercy this year!
-Fr. Erich Rutten