“Mercy is the force that reawakens us to new life and instills in us the courage to look to the future with hope.” -Pope Francis
The Year of Mercy has begun, and oh, how we need it. As we journey through Advent towards Christmas, so many hearts are aching. We desperately need hope. We need it more than Christmas gifts or the perfect tree or eggnog by the fire. Without it, we lack the courage to move forward. And when we extend mercy to each other, it's hope that is poured out.
When I sat down next to my friend after the funeral reception was over, the raw ache in her eyes tore into my heart. She had just lost her teenage daughter. Christmas would never again be the same for her. There would always be an emptiness in the midst of the festivities. My friend's story was heavy with pain. When despair and depression had become overpowering, when the pain had felt unbearable, her daughter had made the choice to end her life. So we sat, with just quietness between us. After a few minutes, she looked around the room and spoke words that I believe hold a message for the body of Christ.
“You know, this isn't my church. This isn't where I had planned to have the funeral. But when we called the church to tell them what had happened, they said they'd come to us, but they never did. If you are ever going to show up and be the church, that time was now. That time was this week for my family. Their silence spoke loudly to us. So we decided to do the funeral somewhere else. It was just too painful to be in a place where they obviously didn't care about us.”
I don't believe my friend's church doesn't care. Most likely someone dropped the ball entirely by accident. Perhaps a note with my friend's name and address had been caught by a draft and fluttered away. It's very unlikely that anyone proactively decided to ignore this hurting family at such a critical time. But what I really wonder is where was the safety net of the church community? Why were their arms not wrapped tight around this family? They could have run interference, helping bridge the gap between who the church wanted to be and what the family was experiencing.
Affliction comes in many forms. We don't wear our heartache as visible, outward wounds, but we all know how much pain is out there. In the midst of a sin-saturated world, people need to know that they matter-that their pain matters-that they are seen. It's been said that suffering that feels senseless is the hardest to bear. When that is compounded with a feeling that the pain must be carried alone, despair can quickly set in. But what a difference the presence of a comforter can make. We can't answer all the questions about the suffering, but we can say, “I see it. And most importantly, I see you. I won't let this pain swallow you or overwhelm you.”
Isn't this the message of the Incarnation? Bridging all distance between God and man, Jesus moved into the neighborhood. He reached out and touched the leper, looked into and healed the eyes of the blind man, and restored Peter when his heart was overwhelmed with his own failure. He rushed in when there was pain instead of recoiling or standing back where it felt safe.
Isn't this the example that the Blessed Mother gave us? She didn't shrink back from human suffering. She didn't shield her eyes when her Son was stripped, beaten, and crucified. She pressed into the suffering, and stayed by His side, providing strength with her presence.
This is how we are asked to live.
“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1) These words aren't just for our priests and parish staff. They are spoken to you and to me. God promises in Isaiah 43:1-2, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you.” He understands that while His presence makes all the difference, we also need a human hand to grasp hold of. We need to see eyes that understand and don't judge. What a privilege it is that He trusts and calls us to be a part of this ministry of comfort.
Nothing makes us more effective ministers of comfort than having suffered ourselves. Not one of your tears of pain will be wasted, if you allow them to be redeemed in the life of another. God can use every ounce of what you have been through to make this world a better, kinder place. 2 Corinthians 1:4 tells us, “The God of all comfort…comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”
If you have experienced miscarriage, divorce, grief, abuse, financial crisis…could it be that God is calling you to step out and encourage and give comfort to others who are going through those very things today? You are uniquely equipped to offer comfort because you have been there. You understand. You are proof that life does go on. You are a carrier of hope.
This is the call to the body of Christ. We are to surround one another, to press into one another's pain, to offer the gift of our presence, to give comfort to others, just as God gives comfort to us. Sometimes sitting silently alongside someone is the best gift we can give. Sometimes it's making a meal. Sometimes advice is truly helpful. The important thing is that we show up. That we slow down enough to notice the pain in someone's eyes. That we ask questions, and then wait for the answers. There is no Christmas present under the tree that will have the kind of life-changing impact that the gift our comforting presence offers.
Lord, open our eyes to see the invisible wounds people carry. Help us to look through grace-healed eyes that search deeper, that pause, that step closer when an aching heart is near.
Originally published in Beautiful Mercy (featuring content from Matthew Kelly and twenty-six other authors)
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