Pastoral Reflections on the Year of Mercy

WelCom October 2016: Diocesan News and Views Mark Richards Over the past year, during this Year of Mercy, we have focused on ‘what we should do!’ And I have often…

WelCom October 2016:

Diocesan News and Views

Mark Richards

Over the past year, during this Year of Mercy, we have focused on ‘what we should do!’ And I have often heard myself blithely summarising: ‘feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger!’

I have also heard in the depth of my heart, and in comments of people I meet, the question: ‘why are you doing this?’ Or even more challengingly, I find myself reacting to the hard asides, ‘Let them take care of themselves!’ ‘They’re not our concern.’ ‘They get what they deserve!’

My usual reaction – and under my breath in very direct Anglo-Saxon – is, ‘you selfish, ignorant ….. !’

In reflecting on my instinctive responses, and on preparing my article for this month, I have been led to contemplate the spiritual works of mercy. And in doing so, I have found what has been missing in my responses. I have realised the spiritual works of mercy MUST accompany any attempt to respond to the needs of others. This realisation has been very challenging and sobering for me.

I’ve become deeply aware, at the heart of my own response and of those who I meet with, is a question summarised in the phrases ‘instruct the ignorant and counsel the doubtful’. Very often it is my own ignorance of the issues involved, or the background of the person I’m talking to, that leads me to judge too quickly. Equally, the gulf between us is a question of my not having enough information, insight or preparation of appropriate words to share my understanding with the other person.

Reflecting on the spiritual works of mercy, I’m fascinated to discover I have presumed ‘they’ – the other person – are ignorant, when in actual fact, it has often been my own lack of words, reflection, or drawing on those around me who have more knowledge, which is reflected in my automatic response!

The spiritual works of mercy ask us to suspend judgement. They ask us to accompany the other person and see the world from their perspective. And then having seen something of the width of the issue, we are called to be formed by the wisdom we have gathered from others, by reading and sharing, and so to seek a ‘common way forward’.

The second part of removing ignorance is the manner in which we accompany the other and relate with issues and people. The spiritual works of mercy offer us of way of interacting. They say: ‘be patient, forgive, console and seek the common good’.

Our starting point must be to connect with the other person in a manner in which we can patiently hear their issue, in which we can see and share their hurt so as to console; and in which we can clearly be seen not to dominate with self-interest, but rather, to be seeking the best way forward for our life in common.

Once again we find ourselves with that wonderful gem of the Catholic social tradition: ‘See, judge, and then act!’ My reflection has led me to see we are good at seeing, very quickly! We are good at jumping to a conclusion and judging the situation! And then interestingly we often get delayed or we bypass the ‘acting’ part because our judgement has been too quick and we have ended up in a situation of division, accusation, and anger.

In summary, in all things let us see with our eyes wide open, and then attempt to see with the eyes of the other; in all things let us suspend our judgement to seek the light of wisdom; let us patiently seek to understand, to be enlightened before we take a stance; and then let us be committed to acting for the discerned common good in the manner of patience, forgiveness and consolation!

Mark Richards is Pastoral Services Manager, Palmerston North Diocese.

See Spiritual Works of Mercy, pg 20.