Pope Francis has declared an “Extraordinary” Jubilee Year of Mercy, which will run through November 20, 2016. What is that? It is actually a perfect opportunity to make church matter by following God’s call to extend mercy to the lost and broken. Here are four areas we’ve been trying in our parish, and we hope will grow over the course of the year.
God calls us not just to “change” the world, but “restore” it. Catholics already have a longstanding tradition for restoring the world around us- they’re called the Corporal Works of Mercy. Use this year to integrate mercy by starting or developing a Missions team. Over the years, we’ve expanded to a few different international missions, but it starts small. Instead of just planning the occasional day trip, which can foster the mentality that mission work is just another extracurricular activity for Christians, facilitate a church partnership with a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or other service, and start a team who will invest time and build trust.
For mercy to become dynamic, it must become specific, which means rooted in real person-to-person relationships. We call these the Spiritual Works of Mercy. In the past, it has often been the job of a small, highly trained group of ministers to meets everyone’s needs, but this too often reinforces the notion that mercy isn’t every Christian’s call. To make mercy a part of our church culture, develop small groups as a way to foster spiritual healing and comfort, understanding, and instruction. Watch people begin to take responsibility for their brother and sister, and not rely just on your staff.
Be Like the Father
Without prayer, mercy becomes a pseudonym for social activism, not the path for discipleship. But Christian mercy is about becoming, as the theme of the year states, “Merciful Like the Father,” and Jesus found this call primarily in his time in silent prayer with his Father. Lent is an opportune time to make this connection. Try hosting an event like additional Eucharistic Adoration or preach about the sacrament of reconciliation and then make it available with extended hours.
Be a Light to Families
Without a doubt, much of the conversation about mercy has been framed around the debates regarding marriage and family life in the Church, but our efforts sometimes seem to generate more heat than light. How does your church communicate mercy? In our current Nativity message series, which is all about building happy families, we made sure to include some evening workshops that reinforce the message we try to communicate. These include qualified speakers about parenting and cyber-safety, and a “date night” where couples can spend some time together and then renew their vows.