Mercy Mondays

Three Ways I Forgot About Mercy

By Joshua Smyser-DeLeon | Monday, March 21, 2016

I always mess my life up. At least…that’s what I tell myself when I pour myself a full bowl of cereal in the morning only to realize later on that I’m out of milk. As dramatic as that sounds, that thought does go a bit deeper than my humble attempt at humor may suggest. The stability of my life always takes a stiff hit to the jaw whenever I deny relationship with the one I should be closest to: Jesus Christ. In Christ, we are given many gifts. One huge gift in particular is being renewed by God’s mercy. Pope Francis describes God’s mercy as “an abyss beyond our comprehension.”1  Just reading that quote sends chills throughout my body. I regularly ask myself how can we be asked to entrust ourselves to God’s mercy, but not be able to fully understand it? Below, you will find stories of my attempts at understanding God’s mercy.

1. Forgetting Who I Was – Finding Myself

Everyone looks back at their time in elementary school differently. When I look back, I see an awkward boy trying to figure out where to fit in. I was a loner, an observer and an introvert. In my observations I noticed other kids were going through their own challenges. The big challenge was being bullied. Kids were bullied the most at the lunch table and all I did was chuckle or remain silent, praying that the bully’s attention would not be drawn towards me. I soon entered junior high and was exposed to youth ministry. At one youth ministry night in particular, we learned about treating others as you would like to be treated. Then it hit me. It was up to me to show mercy in the presence of injustice! Feeling inspired, I stood up to the bully once I saw him being mean to people at the lunch table. The response from others? Crickets. The response from the bully? He spit milk in my face. My response? I took off my glasses, cleaned off my face and asked, “Why would you do that?”  I did not get the answer I wanted, but I did get him to stop pushing people around. That moment reminded me that doing God’s work is messy and not every act of mercy is met with exuberance from those around you. A true test for us as Catholics is to always be merciful, not only when it is popular.

2. Thinking I Was Right – Knowing Those in Need

High school was a different environment for me. I was a different person. I was selfish, self-involved and felt so infallible that even the Pope would be jealous. Any day on my walk from the Chicago Red Line stop to Archbishop Quigley Preparatory Seminary, I would see homeless people asking for money. I never gave because I had been told all my life that the homeless just want money to spend on drugs and alcohol. That mentality quickly shifted once I misplaced my student CTA pass and had to ask people for enough money to take the train home. No one gave to me and I was embarrassed for asking. Eventually, I walked back to Quigley and found my pass, but that did not change the impact this moment had. For a brief 15 minutes, I experienced what many homeless experience 24/7, 365. It was easy for me to forget the struggles others face daily and to ignore the privilege I have been given. Each of us can practice mercy by helping those in need in our own special way, whether it’s volunteering at a homeless shelter or asking a person in need what they would like to eat or drink and buying it for them. We, as Catholics, need to be careful not to claim that we listen to Jesus in one moment and in another find a stick to beat others with. That is just not how it works. We are better people, better Christians, when we practice mercy everywhere we go, not just when it is convenient.

3. Knowing God Was Not Needed – “Ctrl-Z”

College challenged me. I was becoming an adult and with that came more responsibility as well as an increased feeling that being Catholic was a waste of time. I felt as though there was no place for me in the Church. Then World Youth Day in Madrid happened. This is a bit difficult for me to explain because there were a lot of moving pieces in my life at this time. All you need to know is that a year into my college career, I was invited at my home parish to coordinate the youth ministry full-time and help work towards taking a delegation of youth to WYD Madrid. This was fun, but unfortunately in those two years, I was still struggling with my faith. A few days into WYD, we all had the opportunity to “Ctrl-Z.” Reconciliation was a reset or “Ctrl-Z” for me. It served as a reminder that Jesus Christ has a very special capacity for forgetting. He also, “always has patience, patience with us, He understands us, He waits for us, He does not tire of forgiving us if we are able to return to Him with a contrite heart.”2 Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God’s mercy washed upon me. In place of the bitterness, disinterest and stress came God’s love, mercy and an invitation to conversation. Confession is important for the health of our minds, hearts and souls. Our God is constantly extending a merciful hand to us through Reconciliation; it is just a matter of being open to receiving it.

I asked earlier in this writing how could we entrust ourselves to God’s mercy without fully understanding it. The simple answer is we must. Every day we are blessed with the opportunity to receive and give God’s mercy. It is in these opportunities that we receive a deeper understanding of what it means to be merciful. Our eyes become open to the unending layers of God’s mercy. We practice mercy when it is easy and hard, popular or unpopular and we receive it by accepting God’s call to be closer in relationship with his Son, Jesus Christ.

1 Pope Francis, Homily on March 17, 2013

2 Pope Francis, Angelus on March 17, 2013

Mercy Challenge

Have you ever disliked someone? Have you ever prayed for someone you disliked?

Think of the person you dislike most in your life and pray for God to bless them. You can make the prayer your own, but try to at least include, “God, please bless (person(s) name here).” #PrayHardWhenItsHardToPray #MercyBlog #Catholic

Joshua Smyser-DeLeon is Coordinator of Youth Ministry Vicariate II for the Office for Catechesis and Youth Ministry.