How mercy can help America heal from a bitter political season

How mercy can help America heal from a bitter political season

Whether by coincidence or providence, the close of Pope Francis's jubilee Holy Year of Mercy comes for Americans at the same moment as the end of a tumultuous political season. Several leading American Catholics offer thoughts on how to make the most of mercy going forward.

The jubilee year of mercy Pope Francis opened last December is just about to come to an end. If the way the American political campaign in 2016, and now its aftermath in the streets and on campuses, is any indication, we sure do still need mercy, and it seems now more than ever.

Toward the beginning of the year, I asked some friends and commentators, priests and lay, to offer some thoughts and strategies for making the year real and practical. Now I asked some of the same people about moving forward.

Kathleen Beckman, author of God’s Healing Mercy.

With the end of the jubilee of mercy and the presidential election begins a new opportunity to internalize and externalize divine mercy. Personally, the jubilee served as foundational preparation for greater challenges in America.

The Year of Mercy instilled hope. I encountered believers at international retreats who are virtuous people of hope despite everything that points to disappointment. America needs deep individual and communal healing to renew its foundational principles.

Divine mercy doesn’t absent suffering; it transforms it by bringing God into the mix. The mercy of God makes life worth living; merciful love brings out the best in people. Divine mercy is a mirror of what is good in the human person.

St. John Paul II taught, “Mercy is love’s second name” and this challenges us to cultivate a merciful heart in the service of others. St. Teresa of Calcutta once addressed the spiritual poverty of Americans. Crossing the states over the past year to meet and pray with countless people, listening to their heartaches, witnessing their resiliency, convinces me that what America needs is saints—those selfless heroes who go forth, straight into the fire, to rescue and revive in the name of Christ.

Father Christopher Collins, author of Three Moments of the Day: Praying with the Heart of Jesus and professor of theology at St. Louis University.

In a context of mass culture where we often feel un-empowered to do anything about the problems that face our society, we are left discouraged waiting for “them” to handle the problems and it feels like those problems never get dealt with adequately.

To deepen the effects of the year of mercy in our daily personal lives, we might allow ourselves to be drawn into the real-life difficulties of those in our immediate contexts. Every Sunday, we might ask ourselves, “When did I allow myself to be interrupted this week by someone in need, either by a stranger or someone closer to home? Did I take any time to listen and to encourage another even when I didn’t have any immediate solutions to their problems and I couldn’t fix anything?”

Those in need might be a homeless person on the street, a young woman in a difficult pregnancy, a teenager feeling isolated in their social context, an elderly person with no one to listen to their stories, etc. In allowing an interruption like this on a regular basis, little by little, we help to humanize the problems that seem so impersonal otherwise.

Greg Erlandson, editor-in-chief, Catholic News Service.

It may only be a coincidence, but on the morning after the election here Pope Francis’s tweet read: “May we make God’s merciful love ever more evident in our world through dialogue, mutual acceptance and fraternal cooperation.”

This may feel like a tall order from the point of view of both the winners and the losers last night of our titanic and seemingly endless electoral process.

This being a human enterprise, we can expect that both good and ill will be the fruit of this exercise, as it is the fruit of all human endeavors. I think Scripture points us toward humility. At such moments of unexpected triumph and shocking defeat, humility–whether red or blue–can be in short supply.

But Scripture does warn us to put not our trust in princes (whatever party they represent). Pride has led us to an unproductive stalemate of political will, an electorate cleaved down the middle, with anger and despair promising more of the same.

The Church–meaning we–can model repentance, civility of tone, and humility of heart without abandoning principle or demanding unconditional surrender. Such a witness can be a form of evangelization in itself.

We must pray for those who we have opposed, and we must strive for the common good. It is only by relentlessly reintroducing the language of the common good into the tumult of the public square that we will be able to find a fruitful path forward.

Father Aquinas Guilbeau, teaches moral theology at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

In a previous entry on mercy, I mentioned how mercy involves the emotions. What distinguishes mercy from, say, patience is the sorrow that mercy engenders in us when faced with the plight of a suffering neighbor.

Unlike mere patience, mercy has us assume the suffering of our neighbor as if it were our own. In mercy, therefore, we unite ourselves in a warm solidarity with our neighbor, eschewing a quick and cool justice that alleviates his pain but which keeps that pain at a safe distance from us.

As the year of mercy draws to a close, what lesson can we take from it?  I would recommend what St. Peter suggests in his First Letter (5:8): Stay sober! The apostle means that we should remain alert to the wiles of the Evil One.

I take it to mean also that we should avoid things that dull our sensitivities to our neighbor’s suffering. Whether they be the pleasures of the flesh, the delights of the eye, or other false leisures that deaden the soul, we should rid ourselves of whatever keeps us from living closely to others—our loved ones, of course, but also strangers—and helping them to bear their burdens.

How do we express gratitude for the mercy that God has shown to us? We should live soberly so as to live in merciful solidarity with those in need.

Mary Rice Hasson, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church.

God’s mercy is unmistakable! Nearly a year ago, I wrote of Pope St. John Paul II’s observation that we see God’s merciful love most clearly in the face of human “limitation and frailty, both physical and moral.”

The election of Donald Trump, with Republicans holding the Senate and the House, is God’s mercy on us in the face of limitations and moral frailty—our own and that of our leaders. Donald Trump is not a savior or a miracle worker. He’s a flawed man, wise enough to listen to a wide swath of people who felt unjustly forgotten and shut out of the promise of America, and wise enough to surround himself with some good people.

For Catholics, this win is a crucial opportunity: it gives us time and space, within the culture and political realm, to re-propose the truth and a vision for good, if we have the courage to do so. But “how” we go about re-proposing the truth and a vision of the common good and human dignity is critical.

Going forward, putting mercy into action means being humble, kind, and forgiving, reaching out to those alienated by and fearful of the future ahead. It means to “befriend [others] on the road of life,” as Archbishop Charles Chaput said, radiating that “serenity of heart” that “comes from consciously trying to live on a daily basis the things we…believe.”

So, for the year ahead—let’s be humble in the face of others’ (and our own) frailty and failings; let’s speak well of others, presume the best, and strive always to witness to God’s unmistakable mercy and love.

Lisa Henley, founder of CatholicMom.com and co-editor of The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections.

I spent Election Day caring for a beloved family member who just had surgery. On a day when I might be tempted to sit and watch television and engage in punditry, instead I was feeding her, hoping to help alleviate her pain, and praying for her recovery and peace of mind.

As we endeavor to move forward in the wake of the election, my personal desire will be to continue to live out the sparks that were lit in my heart during this year of mercy. The call for me to personally carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy is not impacted by who holds an elective office.

I hope to continue to pray for the grace to be of service to a world greatly in need of love by giving God my “yes” each day in my own way. Christ’s gospel teachings and Mary’s fiat provide us the example we need to be mercy daily.

Marge Fenelon, author of Our Lady, Undoer of Knots: A Living Novena.

I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the Year of Mercy during this election season. With God, there are no coincidences, so I find it striking that the Year of Mercy and a critical U.S. election overlap.

The Year of Mercy isn’t only about God’s mercy for us; it’s also about our mercy for each other. Sadly, we’ve not been very merciful toward one another–not as a nation, and not even among members of our Catholic family. The insults, snarky comments, bullying, and even threats on occasion have flown. I daresay some wounds have been inflicted that may take a very long time to heal.

Post-election, there will be a great deal of healing needed in our country. We’ll have to figure out how to live and work not just among, but with and for each other. It’s easy to forget that our Lord offered his life for all of us, and not just a select few. That includes even our most bitter political adversaries.

Will it be easy? Absolutely not. But it will be necessary. As we move forward, we have to look at one another from the Cross rather than the voting booth.

Monica Fitzgibbons, cofounder, De Montfort Music.

Confession remains a truly beautiful way we can participate in mercy.

Lately my attention has been on Our Lady of Guadalupe.  And a good time too with her feast on the horizon for next month.  Her ability to cross the threshold between Heaven and Earth is evidence of God’s mercy.  The point in history that she appeared to St. Juan Diego could be compared to current times.

Her words (some listed here) speak to the heart with timeless relevancy:

“Hear me and understand well, my son the least, that nothing should frighten or grieve you. Let not your heart be disturbed. Do not fear that sickness, nor any other sickness or anguish. Am I not here, who is your Mother? Are you not under my protection? Am I not your health? Are you not happily within my fold? What else do you wish? Do not grieve nor be disturbed by anything.

Through Our Lady’s sweet guidance, the adventure of Trust is freed from fear and we are helped, and then we can help others through truth and charity.

Father Steve Grunow, CEO, Word on Fire.

The one thing I must do, that I am compelled to do, is to repent.  Repentance is understood by some as an act of humiliation, but what our egoism perceives as humiliation is actually liberation. We caricature repentance as humiliation because we are afraid of leaving behind the life we have created out of our own self striving and self interest.

Repentance is the proper response to God’s mercy, (which is the form God’s love takes when it is received by a sinner).  God’s mercy engenders a response and if our response is acceptance, then our acceptance takes the form of repentance.  Repentance is manifested in willingness to change one’s mind, one’s attitude, one’s behaviors–one’s way of life.

For the disciple of the Lord Jesus this means rejecting a self-centered life and accepting a Christ-centered life–the Christ-centered life is a way of faith, hope and love.  Turning towards God necessitates a turning away from all that is opposed to him. Repentance necessitates deliberating choosing God’s way, rather than my own way.

The experience of God’s mercy never leaves us the same or merely affirms us as we are. Personal transformation always precedes and is the condition for the possibility for cultural transformation. The experience of God’s mercy is a summons to repentance, which is always followed by a summons to mission.

The great follow up to the Year of Mercy, it seems to me, is a year of repentance.  It is only through repentance that we can move forward in mission.

Chad C. Pecknold, associate professor of theology at The Catholic University of America.

This has been the craziest, wildest, strangest political year on record, and not only for Christians. Tensions have run high all year, and there seemed to be no “social release valve” that we could turn to make them go away. Not even voting.

Many have associated Pope Francis with the phrase “go make a mess.” Sometimes they read this critically — hearing something anarchical in those words –and sometimes they recognize that what the Holy Father intended was a re-ordering of our relations with one another, with the world, and most fundamentally and finally, with God.

That second interpretation has to do with God’s mercy being the “social release valve” we need most — Divine, miraculous assistance to heal our disordered desires, our messed up relations.

One of the biggest surprises for me this year has been the experience of agreeing with those whom I would normally disagree with politically. Prior to this year I could more easily explain our political disagreements than our political agreements, and that’s a problem.

The year of mercy has exerted a power upon the world, unseen, often undetected, but which calls each of us to recognize those prior givens which we depend on for our existence, the pre-political goods that make politics worth the effort.

The year of mercy invited us to recognize our sins, and to recognize that setting aside the pride of being right all the time gives us the freedom to listen to the Holy Spirit who leads us into all Truth.

That probably doesn’t seem like something concretely related to the Year of Mercy, but I think it actually gets to the heart of the matter. It gets to the source and cause of all social and political renewal: turning away from the love of human praise, and turning towards the love of truth, the highest good, God. As Lincoln once put, after the much greater tension of the civil war: “we have forgotten God.”

But God has not forgotten us. He is present and active in history. My most concrete advice is to re-dedicate oneself to more regular reception of the Most Holy Eucharist, and Eucharistic Adoration. This will require humility and confession. But it will also provide the “social release valve” within each of our souls that will release the energies we most need for social and political renewal.

That’s my most concrete advice. Return to the Lord.

Paul Thigpen, editor of the Manual for Spiritual Warfare, among other books.

Of all the dismaying features of the American political campaigns this year, one that grieves me especially is the deepening corruption of our public speech. We’ve been on this downward trajectory for some time, of course, but much of the recent national conversation has been shockingly hysterical, dishonest, malicious, vulgar, and even obscene.

Scripture insists that words have great power–“Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21)–and such power can be fatal: “Rash words are like sword thrusts” (Proverbs 12:18). If this principle is true at the personal level, how much more so at the national level! Our society is dying the death of a million cuts from poisoned razor tongues.

Has my tongue been among the guilty? As I look back on the lessons of this year of mercy, I realize that extending mercy in the days to come requires that my words contribute to the national remedy, for “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

In that light, I want to make the Apostle Paul’s admonition my guide: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt.”

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