The word which stayed with me as I reflected on this Sunday’s readings is MERCY. Maybe that is because it brings to mind all the different sorts of conflicts I have had and continue to have when practicing this virtue. Or maybe because when it is left exclusively to the realm of the “ideal,” aka virtue, it is there the conflict arises.
In my experience as a boarding school teacher of secondary school girls in Tanzania, I was often responsible for discipline, and mercy was always a challenge for me. The school community has rules, and when those rules are not obeyed, consequences follow. BUT the many times when the rule-breaker threw herself at my feet begging for mercy, that is when I felt conflicted. So many questions would rush through my mind. It was such a dilemma for me: Do I show mercy or do I stick to the rules? How does my decision affect the rest of the community? What ought to be the relationship between mercy and law? What is fair? How do I decide?
It seems like I can see others experiencing the same inner turmoil when looking at the situation of migrants and refugees these days in Europe and at the U.S. southern border. I suppose there are some people who wish ill, but I am sure there are many more who feel inclined towards mercy, and yet are conflicted on what to do. It is obvious that we, the United States, and other governments need systems changes and immigration reforms, and we, each one of us, need to advocate and work toward this. In the meantime, in our day-to-day living, what do we do now?
The Gospels, Catholic Social Teaching, our faith, and our humanity compel us to recognize the dignity and rights of all those arriving at borders seeking refuge, and this recognition leads to the practice of mercy as the interim mode of being as we await/work for systems reform. Pope Francis has demonstrated many times his concern and love for those who feel compelled to flee their homelands in order to survive. Pope Francis has said: “All nations must focus on service to the poorest, the sick, those who have abandoned their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their families. In putting ourselves at the service of the neediest, we will experience that we already are united; it is God’s mercy that unites us.” (NCR - 2016)
Let the example of the first son in today’s Gospel – the one who acted – be the one we follow. Let us not only talk about, but also act on mercy.
Photo of Border Wall from the US Side - Nogales, Arizona, USA by Peg Hunt via Flickr