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Year of Mercy

Year of Mercy

On Monday 1st February, 2016, a number of us Marists were privileged to attend a day sponsored by the La Salle Academy for Faith Formation and Religious Education of the Australian Catholic University on the topic of ‘Mercy'. The day was led by scripture scholar Sr Veronica Lawson RSM.

Prior to the day, we had the opportunity to study Veronica's recently published book titled 'the Blessing of Mercy  Bible Perspectives and Ecological Challenges'. This text brought to life many of the key passages in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures on the topic of Mercy, with a particular focus on the ecological implications of these passages. Having read this text prior to our day together, we had a valuable insight into what Veronica might present.

She began by quoting Jesuit theologian Tony Campbell: ‘The Bible is the story teller's companion’ and adopted this approach herself during her presentation. She asked, referring to the Pope's encyclical 'Laudato Si'  ‘How can we be doorkeepers of God’s mercy’? ‘How can we hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’? (LS49).

Veronica then referred to Picasso’s 1937 painting *The Weeping Woman*. When Picasso painted this work, he was no longer focussing on the effects of the Spanish Civil War but on the global image of suffering. If he were alive today perhaps he would be thinking of the refugees drowning as they attempt to swim from from Turkey to Greece.

Veronica moved then to Denise Levertov’s beautiful poem ‘To Live in the Mercy of God’ reminding us of the truth ‘we care for what we love’.

In the next part of her presentation, Veronica highlighted the emphasis Pope Francis is giving to Mercy, especially with his promulgation of this year as the Church's Year of Mercy. She drew our attention to three of the Pope’s homilies:  1) 17th March, 2013 (his first homily as pope) where he reminded his listeners ‘Jesus had this message for us: “Mercy” ‘.  2) 17th March 2014 where Pope Francis emphasised the connection between mercy and peace: ‘When we judge - we often fail to leave space for mercy and understanding’ and  3) 24th October, 2015 at the close of the Synod on the Family: ‘the Church’s first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God’s mercy’.

Much of Veronica’s presentation focused on key ‘Mercy’ words used in the Hebrew Scriptures such as:

1. Mercy as liberation and compassion (the verb *hamal*)
2. Mercy as looking with the eye of pity or the eye that spares the guilty (the verb *hûs*)
3. Mercy as steadfast, enduring love (the noun *hesed*)
4. Mercy as womb-compassion: in the use of the word group derived from the Hebrew word for womb *rehem*.
5. Mercy as grace or graciousness: in the use of the noun for grace *hēn* (Lawson, 2015, p.19).

As Veronica proceeded she summarised mercy as real love, a love that affects our inner being (‘gut love’). In making reference to Mary and Mercy, she suggested we study Cardinal Martini’s book 'The Gospel Way of Mary' and Elizabeth Johnson’s text 'Truly Our Sister'. In the end, Veronica concluded, ‘Mercy transcends the language of Mercy’.

Finally we thank Veronica for enriching our knowledge and deepening our understanding of Mercy.

John McMahon

Francis, P. (2015). Laudato Si'. Strathfield: St Paul's.
Johnson, E. (2003). Truly Our Sister. New York: Continuum.
Lawson, V. (2015). The Blessing of Mercy. Northcote: Morning Star.
Martini, C. (2008). The Gospel Way of Mary. Frederick: The Word Among Us Press.

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