When the Iraq war began in 2003 I was angry and in grief. I thought of the word REPENT, with an urgency to turn away from war and towards peace. And I began the Prayer Banner project inspired in part by the famous 1843 Kentucky Coffin Quilt or Graveyard Quilt by Elizabeth Roseberry Mitchell. With the help and community of others I began stitching the names of dead soldiers and Iraqi civilians onto coffins to spell the word REPENT.
But after the Abu Ghraib torture photos were released in 2004 I fell to my knees in shame and thought of the word MERCY, and how only God’s love and forgiveness could redeem us now.
MERCY is a powerful word, and I’m heartened to hear that Pope Francis’ message to the world is about patience, and merciful forgiveness. MERCY resonates in my heart as I own the harshness with which I judge myself and others in countless minute ways every day. May I answer this internal judgement with compassion and acceptance instead!
In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal … Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient. … Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful.
— Pope Francis, Angelus on March 17, 2013
When Pope Francis links MERCY with God’s infinite patience with our many “mistakes and sins” I think of the unforgiving regiment of perfection and achievement that our culture as a whole aspires to in order to mask our vulnerability, and how I’m still caught up in it. I think of the slowness of stitching and how years of handwork have only begun instilling within me an understanding of patience and devotion, and I feel tender.
God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to Him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. … It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of His heart. Thomas understood this. Saint Bernard goes on to ask: But what can I count on? My own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as He is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in His patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of His love.
— Pope Francis, Homily on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2013
Lots of folks these days give Christianity and all organized religion a bad wrap and I can understand why. I agree with religions’ haters, that there is a large fraction of orthodox, fundamentalist and mainstream practitioners who have shown little MERCY, understanding, patience or acceptance to outsiders or insiders. Violent righteousness and sanctioned hypocrisy is a major problem with religion.
I’m heartened that Pope Francis is speaking out about the Christian message of MERCY known to us through the humble witness of Jesus’ life and actions, which radically envisioned a new notion of human justice. A justice that calls for MERCY and compassion, not an eye for an eye. It’s appropriate that the redemption of religious belief, begin from the inside out. And it’s long overdue.
I can’t say exactly why I felt the need to share this right now and be thankful, except that the Pope’s message of MERCY seems extraordinary, refreshing, restorative and true.