Mercy Mondays

“Responding with Mercy”

By Wendy Barton Silhavy | Monday, March 14, 2016

As a church musician, I’ve had the privilege and responsibility of walking with people during the very high and very low points of their lives. Like many others in music ministry, I’ve planned weddings and funerals, sacramental celebrations, and other liturgies marking life’s most momentous occasions. Sometimes this planning is filled with faith, hope, and joy; and sometimes it’s very challenging, both to me and to those individuals and families involved in the planning. Although funerals, weddings, and other celebrations can be challenging pastorally, these are the moments when our pastoral skills are absolutely needed most. People come to the church for these liturgies and sacraments for a variety of reasons. Our care and attention in helping them make the best choices in music and liturgy for these celebrations can be a make-or-break religious moment for many people. In these moments, we can either invite them further into the life of the church or drive them away by our pastoral inattention and demeanor. It’s a huge responsibility but also very fulfilling ministerial work.

We can all incorporate a more “merciful” focus this year through a renewed commitment to merciful thought and behavior in our daily work. For a music minister, being merciful doesn’t mean being a pushover, or agreeing to every idea that pops into people’s heads. It does mean listening carefully to people, drawing their personal story out of them, so that decisions are based on understanding and compassion as well as the guidelines, suggestions, and requirements of the Church. Hard decisions remain hard, no matter how much we focus on mercy. Some decisions are difficult and painful for all involved. However, when we actively work to reconcile our pastoral sense, knowledge of the liturgy of the Church, and compassion for others, we can at least treat each other humanely.

So, the next time you are preparing for a liturgy in the church, whether it’s a time of joy, such as a wedding, or a time of sorrow, such as a funeral, take the time to learn a bit about the people involved. Listen to the suggestions and reasoning given by the music and liturgy ministers in the parish. Try to understand where the church is coming from. Ask questions. And music and liturgy ministers, be willing to spend the time necessary with people so that they are comfortable with the choices made. Listen to their stories. This holds true, whatever your ministry. In the words of a beautiful hymn, “We are pilgrims on a journey, We are travelers on the road; We are here to help each other Walk the mile and bear the load”. (The Servant Song, Richard Gillard, ©1977, Universal Music – Brentwood Benson Publishing) 

Mercy Challenge

It sounds strange, but this week, take a fresh look at how you disagree with people! Disagreement and conflict is a reality of our daily lives, and can be a source of either fruitful dialogue or a growing and festering sense of resentment and anger.  Many of the Spiritual Works of Mercy deal with disagreements and conflict. They really require a good, honest look at our personal way of thinking and interacting with others. This week, when you find yourself in the position of “admonishing sinners” or “bearing patiently those who do us ill,” take a moment to assess your own contribution to these situations. Seek to learn a bit of the personal story of the person with whom you have a conflict or disagreement. Take a deep breath and try to see their point of view. Take any anger down a notch by recalling that all of our brothers and sisters show us the face of Christ. Simple things like thinking for a few seconds before you react and adjusting your tone of voice can go a long way toward building a culture of mercy in our world.

Wendy Barton Silhavy is Director of Liturgies and Music for the Office for Divine Worship.