A Reflection on Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy

Over the past few weeks, I have been reflecting on Pope Francis’ Prayer for the Year of Mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ,

You have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,

and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.

Show us your face and we will be saved.

Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;

the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;

made Peter weep after his betrayal,

and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.

Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:

“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,

of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:

let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness

in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:

let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,

so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,

and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,

proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,

and restore sight to the blind. 

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,

You who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever.

Amen.

I love Pope Francis and what he has done for our Church, the faithful, and so many others.  His witness makes me want to be a better person. I am inspired by the revolution of tenderness that he is calling us to.

When reflecting on his prayer, I was first drawn to the people that Francis mentions and their sins. I resonate with all of them – they are, after all, human.  But the important thing about all of these people is that Jesus was looking at them when he forgave them.  The prayer says, “Show us your face, and we will be saved. Your loving gaze freed…”  This reminds us of how significant this look of love is.  A few years ago, I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, and one of the experiences of prayer that I found most powerful was to reflect on how God sees me. I tried to imagine this loving gaze. With all of my joys and sorrow, my strengths and weaknesses, with all of my warts and my crazy, can God look lovingly and tenderly at me? What would that feel like?

Quick story, I grew up about a mile away from my grandma’s house, and was very close to her. She would get us a kite and host an egg hunt every Easter, we would spend hours playing dress-up and trying on her jewelry.  Once, we even orchestrated an entire circus at her house (I was the elephant with my trunk made of a paper towel roll). She and my grandpa would come to daily Mass at our Catholic elementary school, so we would see her every day, and I’d always be so proud because everyone thought that she was the nicest lady they had ever met. Rather than saying “Goodbye” to us, she would say, “I’ll be loving you.”

For the later years of her life, we didn’t have the luxury of living close to one another. She moved in with my aunt in Denver, and I moved away from my hometown. When I went home to see my parents, I no longer was able to stop by Granny’s and have a “warm hug” (what she called a cup of coffee) or sneak in the pew with her at Church (because I never been on time to Mass, or anything in the morning, in my life).

Granny and me

So, we hadn’t seen each other in a while before my brother’s wedding. She arrived to the rehearsal dinner, and by the grace of God, someone got a picture of us greeting one another. I still look regularly at this picture. I just love the look of pure joy she has on her face when she sees me. There is so much love, pride, and tenderness on her face.  And as one of 9 kids and 22 grandkids, this look is all for me.

I think this is just one more of the gifts my Granny gave to me – she gave me an insight, a glimpse, into how Gods sees me.  God looks at us with a thousand times this love. He is constantly giving us reminders: the sun on our face, the flowers in our garden, a great song that speaks to our heart, and the loving look of a Granny.  God never tires of telling us of his great love – individual, intimate, unique – that he has for each one of us.

But in Pope Francis’s prayer, the loving gaze also brings us to the challenge:

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness

in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:

let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

I think the last part of this phrase should be the mission statement of Catholic Social Services, “let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.”  But, I am challenged by the first part. Having worked for Catholic Social Services for nearly two decades, there is one thing that I see a lot of our clients have in common – shame. They are ashamed of what they have done, of who they are, and of having to ask for help.

They are ashamed of the abuse.  Ashamed for staying. Ashamed to still be in love.

Ashamed of the accent. Ashamed that their child has to translate for them.

Ashamed of what they look like. Ashamed of where they are from. Ashamed of their family.

Ashamed that they can’t feed their kids. Ashamed that they don’t have the right house or clothes.

Ashamed that they can’t control their mental health. Ashamed that they don’t feel love for their baby. Ashamed of their disability.

Shame is a toxic emotion, and it is prevalent. Too many people do not know the loving gaze of our creator – the gaze that loves you when you are at your lowest, and will love you even when you do not feel His presence. We all need reminded that we are sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

And finally, the prayer moves into a discussion of renewed enthusiasm. When I was in college, I was a retreat junkie, and I had to learn the hard way that you come down off of those highs. We aren’t looking to hang out on the mountain tops. Our humanity brings us down. Down, when we need to be reminded of who we are. To receive again that loving gaze.

Sometimes, it is easy to dismiss the pain in the world as far away, but this last month has been a terrible reminder of how many people need to know that they are sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.  I caught the police shooting of the black man in Minnesota, and I watched the video of the woman who was with her boyfriend with their child in the back, and I saw how calm she was when she thought that he was shot in the arm.  And then, when she realized that he was more injured than she originally thought and began to wail, it was her four year old who could be heard saying, “I’m right here momma” to console her mother.

It made me angry. And there are a lot of ways people have responded.  But one inspired me.  It was a woman, peacefully protesting in Baton Rouge.  A mom, a nurse, standing up to say that this is not right and offering the world a loving gaze.

Now, that is inspiring! So, let us go forth, to remind this world that it is sought after, loved, and forgiven by God, and let us do so with renewed enthusiasm that will give us the courage to stand peacefully in the midst of a storm.  I promise you, God is there.

~ Rachel Lustig, President and CEO of Catholic Social Services

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