If you’ve paid any attention to Pope Francis since last November, you’ve probably heard the word “mercy.” A lot. Francis declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy that began in December of 2015 and will come to a close in just a couple of weeks, on November 20, 2016.
What does “mercy” even mean? One definition of “mercy” is rooted in Scripture. It traces back to Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-46, where he lays out what’s necessary for salvation: to show compassion to people who suffer. He says that whatever we do for people in need, we do directly to him. It’s here that Jesus names some of what the Church refers to as the Corporal Works of Mercy, like feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting the sick and imprisoned.
I reflected back on the past year to try to evaluate how well I practiced each of the Works of Mercy. And I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t even make it past “feeding the hungry.” I couldn’t think of one example throughout the past year when I had gone out of my way to give food to someone in need. Why is this? There are probably a number of reasons, but part of it could be because I do have enough to eat every day, and so it’s easy for me to be out of touch with the reality of those who do not.
But a staggering 795 million people around the world do not have enough to eat. People in developing countries, especially, are still devastated by hunger.
- Every 1 out of 9 people does not have enough food.
- Most of these people live in the developing world.
- Many of the people who are affected by hunger are children.
In his Bull of Indiction to launch the Jubilee Year, Pope Francis says it is an essential part of the work of the Church to testify to God’s mercy. He writes, “Wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident” (no. 12).
One way that CRS practices the Work of Mercy of “feeding the hungry” is through CRS’ Helping Hands meal-packaging program. Through Helping Hands, communities in the US gather together to package nutritious meals for people living in poverty in Burkina Faso. Helping Hands also invests in initiatives that empower people to be able to feed their families for the long-term.
Though it inspires me that CRS feeds the hungry in the name of Catholics in the US, like me, I realize this also doesn’t let me—or any of us— off the hook. Pope Francis encourages each of us to be a tangible signs of God’s compassionate love to others during this Jubilee Year—and beyond.
Maybe even though we’ve heard the word “mercy” more than usual over the past year, we still haven’t found the time to reflect on or practice it. This is true for me, at least. And so as the year nears its end, I am committing to carve out some time reflect more deeply on how we can show God’s mercy to people who need it most, and especially to those who do not have enough to eat. What will you do?
Genevieve Jordan Laskey develops resources for ministry for Catholic Relief Services.