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Mercy in Your City

December 1, 2015
The Jubilee of Mercy is upon us and you know what that means? No? Me neither. At least, I didn’t really know what it meant or how it pertained to me until a little while ago.
Earlier this year, March 13, 2015 to be exact, Pope Francis announced a Holy Year of Mercy for the entirety of the Catholic Church, to begin on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8) and run until the Feast of Christ the King in 2016 (Nov. 20). Why this announcement? And, more importantly, why now? Francis said, in his letter,
Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36).
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.
Ok, great. Beautiful letter. ‘But what am I supposed to do with it?’ you may be asking yourself. I’ll get there.
As a young adult living in a big city, in a different country, away from everything that is familiar and comfortable, I realized life can get pretty lonely. So, in an attempt to nourish my soul and form some sort of community and fellowship, I was invited to join (read: forced myself upon) a book club with other young ladies who felt the same way. This time around, we resolved to immerse ourselves into the world of Kerry Weber and read her book, Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job. How appropriate.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this excellent book, here’s the scoop. Kerry is a twentysomething year old living and working in New York City (at the time the book was written). One Lent, she decides to perform all of the Corporal Works of Mercy. You read correctly. ALL of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Here’s a run-down of them, in case you forgot:
  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Harbour the harbourless (shelter the homeless)
  • Visit the sick
  • Ransom the captive (visit the imprisoned)
  • Bury the dead
Yep. Tall order. I don’t want to spoil the book for you but I will tell you she didn’t not do all of them, maybe.
Reading this book a few weeks prior to the Jubilee of Mercy really did open my eyes to what being merciful is. When I sit down to eat my lunch, it makes me aware of all the people who go without food and I thank God I have some. When I choose an outfit in the morning and toss aside all the ‘no’s’, it makes me aware of all the people who have few clothes and I thank God I have some. When I get up to fill my water bottle at our office sink, it makes me aware of all the people who don’t have access to clean water, and I thank God I do.
But it extends far beyond that. When I’m walking down the street and I see all the homeless and poor living on the streets and standing on street corners begging for money, I am made more aware of them. I stop, smile, ask for their name and offer all I have, at most $20 or at the very least and perhaps most importantly, a prayer.
And, I think, that’s the point of this Year of Mercy. To go beyond ‘thanking God,’ and to actually do something. It’s not just about Christ being merciful to us (and how His mercy flows!). It’s about going out into the real world and being merciful and extending mercy to those all around us. It’s about encounter, love, forgiveness.
And it doesn’t stop with the Corporal Works of Mercy. We have the Spiritual Works of Mercy as well! They are:
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Admonish sinners
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive offences willingly
  • Comfort the afflicted
  • Pray for the living and the dead
In my own life, I can already see how I can put into practice the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy. It may be as simple as buying a meal for Guy, the old man who always stands on the corner of Bay and Yonge Street or perhaps something more difficult like not rebutting my coworker when they have wronged me.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of the Jubilee of Mercy, I’ll ask my colleagues here at Salt + Light what they are doing for it and what their expectations are for the year ahead. (Stay tuned!)
Everyone is different and I can’t tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. But I do challenge all of you to look at your own life and see how you can prepare for the Year of Mercy. What can you do to practice mercy in your city?
CNS photo/Justin Lane, EPA

Vivian Cabrera is a displaced Texan living in Canada. A recent graduate of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, she enjoys writing about the many ups and downs (both spiritual and physical) that come with moving to a country very similar yet quite different from her own. And because God is good all the time, she spends most of her time trying not to forget how to speak Spanish and working as the Social Media Coordinator for Salt + Light. Questions? Comments? Concerns? Suggestions? Find her up on twitter (@iCabrera05) or email her here: vcabrera@saltandlighttv.org.
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