Misericordiae Vultus: The face of mercy

By Canon Philip Gillespie

There is a temptation to shrug our shoulders at the opening of this Holy Year of Mercy and say, "What has that got to do with me?" or "What difference will it make?". Well, in the letter declaring his intention to call this Holy Year, Pope Francis writes that just as the love and compassion and tenderness of God lie at the very heart of our understanding of the relationship of Faith, so we are called to make that love and mercy something which transforms our relationships with others and provides the guiding principle of what we do each and every day.

And lest we think that all this talk of love and mercy and compassion can be a little too nebulous or touchy-feely, Pope Francis asks us to revisit the Corporal Works of Mercy which are almost an examination of conscience against which we can cross-check our lives. These are:

Feed the hungry
Give drink to the thirsty
Clothe the naked
Shelter the homeless
Visit the sick
Care for the imprisoned
Bury the dead


We will not necessarily be in the position to go out of our way to do each of these things every day but on reflection we may realise that we engage in all these attitudes and actions far more frequently than we realise because they are part of the warp and weft of every day. We might be tempted to say this is just 'getting on with things' or 'being a good Christian' but it means we are in the blessed position of the Gospel teaching being second nature to us – and that is what we call holiness of life! So what difference will the Holy Year make? If we have hearts and eyes and ears open to learn and then put into practice, then all the difference in the world.