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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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The effectiveness of liturgy does not lie in experimenting with rites and altering them over and over, nor in a continuous reductionism, but solely in entering more deeply into the word of God and the mystery being celebrated. It is the presence of these two that authenticates the Church's rites, not what some priest decides, indulging his own preferences.
— Liturgicae Instaurationes (1970)

A Triptych on Mercy • Reflection I
published 6 November 2016 by Fr. David Friel

HE EXTRAORDINARY Jubilee Year of Mercy comes to a close on Sunday, November 20, 2016. This year has been an opportunity for the Church universal to reflect more deeply on what Our Lord revealed to St. Faustina is God’s greatest attribute. One significant thing that the experience of this Jubilee has revealed to me is that many people—in the Church and outside the Church—do not truly understand the meaning of Christian mercy. There is work to be done, in terms of both evangelization and catechesis.

To conclude this Year of Mercy, therefore, I am posting a trilogy of reflections, which I hope will be both spiritual and practical. Today marks the first installment, and the next two reflections will appear on the coming two Sundays.

Without any pretense that these reflections will be exhaustive, I plan to reflect on three topics: the meaning of mercy, the need for mercy, and the beauty of mercy.

My hope is that these thoughts will serve to elucidate the true nature of mercy and help to seal the graces of this Year of Mercy in those who read them.

My life story is not particularly interesting. It follows a rather predictable pattern. I was born & raised Catholic, went to school, entered the seminary, and became a parish priest. There are a few twists and turns, but nothing major.

Sometimes, to be honest, I wish I had a “better” story to tell. Why? Because, like many people, I like listening to stories about terrible sinners who reform their ways and start responding to God’s grace. It’s inspiring to hear about people who were in the grips of addiction before finding God. It’s fascinating to hear about people who left their faith or had no faith before converting to become Catholic.

My story isn’t “interesting” like those kinds of stories, where the person is caught in such an extreme situation that God has to show them incredible mercy. In reality, though, people with “exciting” stories are not the only people who have stories to tell about God’s mercy.

God’s mercy, after all, is not just about bringing wild sinners back from their errant ways. In fact, God’s mercy is just as vibrant in my story as it is in even the wildest story of a sinner come home. How so?

It was the mercy of God by which I was born healthy.
It was by God’s mercy that I have a good family.
It was by God’s mercy that I received a good education.
It was by God’s mercy that I was called to the priesthood.
It is by God’s mercy that I woke up this morning.
It is by God’s mercy that I have a place to live and food to eat and money to spend.

At every step of my life’s journey, the mercy of God has been deeply at work.

This should tell us something about the meaning of mercy. Mercy refers not only to God’s power to forgive. Mercy is broader than that.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word that is most often translated as “mercy” is the word hesed. Hesed could also be translated as “loving-kindness,” or even “loyalty.” It is more about kindness than strictly about forgiveness, although forgiveness is certainly part of God’s extraordinary kindness. Hesed is not a mood; it is not a feeling; it is a deep disposition of the heart. This type of loving-kindness is an essential part of Who God is—indeed, it is His greatest attribute.

We see this usage of the word “mercy” at several points throughout the Mass. One of the most beautiful prayers we pray in every Mass is the prayer that immediately follows the Our Father, the Libera Nos, Domine. Read this very familiar prayer again:

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of Your mercy, we may be always free from sin.

This prayer does not envision God’s mercy simply as a corrective for our sins. Rather, this prayer recognizes that God’s mercy is also at work when we are kept free from sin. This is one of the most important reasons we should go to confession: so that God can not only forgive our sins, but also, in His mercy, preserve us from sin going forward.

Our stories—your story & my story—need not be flashy or dramatic or “interesting.” We do not have to be world-class sinners in order to experience God’s mercy. The simple fact that we exist is a testament to God’s mercy. The fact that we are breathing means that we are experiencing God’s mercy here and now.

The truly “interesting” life story is the story of one who accepts God’s merciful kindness and allows that experience to transform one’s life.

Part 1 • The Meaning of Mercy

Part 2 • The Need for Mercy

Part 3 • The Beauty of Mercy