Pope Francis has given us a great gift in declaring this year (December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016) an Extraordinary Year of Mercy. Like Jubilee years of the Old Testament, it is meant to be a time of righting wrongs, or returning things to their proper order, and to rejoice in the good things that God has done. Pope Francis is giving us an opportunity to reflect on the nature of God as merciful, and encouraging all to “be merciful as our Heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).
But what is mercy? Mercy is a willingness to respond to the needs of another, even when the other does not ‘earn’ or ‘deserve’ a response. It is a response to the chaos of the other person’s life and help to bring order. It is seeking to put things right.
Too often, mercy is seen as opposed to justice, that it is understood a being permissive. In encountering sin, we might be tempted to act in such a way that might confirm the sin instead of comforting the sinner. That is not true mercy, however. Mercy is the treat the other person with dignity, to call them out of a destructive behavior, and to remind them of the great and loving God we have. God does not wish us to remain in sin, but rather that we come to Him for forgiveness. Justice is giving a person what they deserve, but mercy is always greater than justice. In showing mercy, God displays His power. While we are yet sinners, He loves us, pardons us, and calls us back. This is mercy! While there is still breath in us, He is always ready to pour His mercy on us. When we are left with no more time to return to Him, His justice comes.
In the end, even Hell itself is an act of mercy, and not blind justice. God loves us enough to let us have our will. If we live apart from His will for our lives, why would we want to live for eternity with Him? Yes, by our actions, we can reject God, in which case He shows His love in allowing us to reject Him. But we can also be presumptuous, assuming His mercy and that He would accept us, unrepentant sin and all. No, we are to call on His mercy, knowing Him to be just. Then, and only then, can we live in His mercy and extend that mercy to others.