1. "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:36)”. Christ’s words are the key to the Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has called for us to celebrate as a Church beginning this December. What effect can we expect it to have on our lives?
2. The theme of mercy has been central to the Pope's ministry as Pope, but also as a priest and bishop, Francis has placed a lot of emphasis on the value of mercy as a moment of conversion and the foundation for a renewal of the Church.
3. In his homily announcing the year of mercy, he characterized the Church’s witness to mercy as a “journey that begins with a spiritual conversion.” Whether in the confessional or in the slums, he has seen that God's mercy liberates us and gives that peace that cannot be found in this world. It compels us to be better Christians.
4. Mercy is not just a theological term meant for homilies on Sundays, but a reality that transforms lives both spiritually and humanly. The social sciences are increasingly backing up any number of the Church’s teachings by showing that a sound moral and spiritual life is the key to a happy and flourishing life.
5. The effect of God's mercy can be seen not only a supernatural level, but also on a human and psychological one. Psychologists recognize that patients often are bound by anxiety about not being forgiven and become slaves of guilt.
6. Once they acknowledge their sins and receive God's mercy and forgiveness, they are often freed in a very healthy psychological way.
7. It is easy to just think about the Sacrament of Penance as a sort of scoreboard. If we go to Confession, we can just “wipe the slate clean”. This, however, is a damaging reduction of the immense gift that is God's mercy.
8. His abundant love for us is not about keeping score, but about restoring and strengthening a relationship. Mercy liberates our souls from the guilt and self-loathing that keep us from loving and serving God and others. This mercy not only purifies the soul, but fills our hearts and minds with peace, giving us the strength to persevere and to grow in virtue.
9. Have you ever heard a priest say the words "May God grant you pardon and peace" at the end of your Confession and suddenly felt a flood of relief?
10. Regardless of whether you have an emotional reaction or not, when you receive absolution you undergo a substantive change. When you are absolved from your sins through God's mercy, you are once again able to move forward. The graces received unite us with Christ, and allow us to experience His consolation.
11. The value of Christ's Mercy should never be underestimated. He died so that we could be free from all of the times that we have failed, when we have rejected Him, when we have chosen other things above a loving relationship with Him.
12. When we seek out and embrace His Mercy, we are better able to become the men and women He is calling us to be. We can each find the "joy needed to make fruitful the mercy of God."
13. Why is it so hard to forgive? Certainly a major barrier is hatred, especially hatred between people. It is not difficult to find examples of hatred in the world today. All you have to do is to turn on the television to see how active and destructive hatred is in most cultures.
14. This is just one of the reasons it is important to understand how to work through these barriers and strive to be forgiving.
15. A distinction should be made between anger and hatred, for they are not the same thing. Anger is a natural reaction to almost any actual or perceived attack, hurt, or threat. Anger is both the immediate emotional and behavioural response to such attacks and it is familiar to all.
16. Hatred, by contrast, is not an immediate reaction, but depends upon the cultivation of anger. This cultivation creates supporting cognitive structures that produce new anger and negative emotion long after the original reflexive anger.
17. There are many long-term consequences to hatred, and unending cycles of revenge is just one of them. For individuals, hatred in a way "pickles" a person, filling them with resentment, bitterness, and even depression. And of course it keeps people from doing anything positive with their life.
18. Is hatred a choice? As adults often it is. That is, we usually choose to hate or not. Often in the past we didn’t choose the hatred that we have, for example hatred stemming from a childhood trauma. But as adults, sooner or later, we choose to keep it or to let go of it.
19. Through psychotherapy and counselling a person can confront their hatred. For example, a therapist will bring them to an awareness of how a person cultivated the hatred and of the possibility of letting it go. So what helps one let go of hatreds?
20. One way to begin is to reflect on them. Especially to reflect on some of the hatred that is difficult to let go of. This is the point where the choice comes. There is now a possible choice to work at letting go or not. There is now the freedom to make this decision.
21. People certainly enjoy hatred, or it wouldn't be so popular in the world's literature, and on television and in movies today. In a temporary way, hatred makes you feel morally superior and gives you energy and purpose, but at the price of long-term exhaustion.
22. Interpersonal hatred is a kind of defence mechanism protecting our ego or our narcissism. One kind of “benefit” for holding onto the hatred is self-pity. But self-pity undermines our motivation.
23. Hatred often poisons relationships with others around us. Others don’t want to let go of the hatred because they have a relationship with the person they hate and in letting go, there would be emptiness in their life.
24. Also, holding onto the hatred can protect one from being vulnerable to new relationships, a dubious benefit. Hatred also can shield one from painful memories. Some of these effects of hatred are short-term positives but it is not hard to see how these bring long-term negatives effects.
25. Christians know that interpersonal hatred is wrong, and was explicitly rejected by Our Lord. We are called to love our enemies, not hate them, as difficult as this is. One good way to start overcoming hatred for your enemies is to pray for them. With prayer the other will no longer be all bad and you will not seem all good. Thus, praying for an enemy helps make them forgivable.
26. You cannot force someone into forgiveness. Another may be able to suggest the notion, but ultimately the person must make the decision for themselves, otherwise the possibility of false or cheap forgiveness arrives.
27. A person may not have the freedom to stop hating in the sense of being able to easily let go of the structures formed over the years, but they do have the freedom to begin to stop hating, even though the process can be difficult and requires sustained effort. With a reduction of hating comes the possibility of genuine forgiveness.
28. When a person forgives, they are giving away something of value, a debt or justice they are owed by the person. But, forgiveness is not excusing the person for what they did or condoning the act. You cannot forget the act that was made, if you were truly hurt.
29. With forgiveness, the obsessive memory of the act will decline. If we desire to be forgiving in this upcoming Year of Mercy, we must first work through the barriers to forgiveness.