Throughout the Year of Mercy, which runs from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 2015 to the Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016, the Pope invites us "gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives."
So I have been gazing. I have been reflecting on the questions, “What exactly is mercy and what does means to be merciful?” To begin my gazing, I have been reading Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical, “Dives in Misericordia” or “Rich in Mercy.”
One part of that encyclical is a commentary on the parable of the prodigal son. Through the parable, Pope John Paul highlights the theme of human dignity and the infinite value of each person. Even though the young son had squandered his inheritance and had been wallowing in slop and feeding among swine, the father is quick to restore dignity to his son. In essence, he tells his son, “You are better than that. You have been created for greater things.”
So our efforts to extend mercy to others must always urge them on to greater things. Yes, we must work to ensure that nobody should ever have to live on the streets and feed upon scraps like an animal. We must work to ensure that people have the rewards and fruitful employment and access to proper health care. We must help people to be free from bondage and oppression.
Yet we must also recognize that a call for human dignity is a call for virtue and holiness. We are not beasts. Unlike animals we can master our appetites and passions. Unlike animals we are created for worship. We are able to honor our promises and vows. God-given human dignity invites us to sacrifice for the greater good and for higher principles. We are to order our lives according to higher truths. We are to strive to more sophisticated art, music, and entertainment.
Essentially, our human dignity reminds us, when we are wallowing in slop or in lives of sin or mediocrity, that, “You are better than that. You are created for greater glory.”
The Church professes and proclaims mercy. God not only is patient with us and forgives us but also raises us up. This is a mercy that overcomes darkness and is more powerful than evil. God have mercy on us all and raise us up to higher things.