What is mercy?

How do we understand mercy? It can be seen more authentically in our actions than by a dictionary definition. One of the most significant gifts offered to the world by Pope Francis is simply, but powerfully, the way in which he chooses to live. To witness his active loving is to be exposed to and to receive mercy.  Indeed, the Pope’s own reflections provide further insights into understanding what mercy might be about …

I think the latin gerund miserando is impossible to translate in both Italian and Spanish.  I like to translate it with another gerund that does not exist: misericordiano (mercy-ing)

Opening the Doors

Recurring throughout the writings of Pope Francis is his call to open the doors.  His invitation to live one’s life in this way is perhaps illustrative of a life that is offered in mercy …

In 2012, as Cardinal Bergoglio, the Pope observed that, 

Little by little increasing security has made us bolt doors, employ means of vigilance, install security cameras and mistrust strangers who call at our door … The closed door is really a symbol of our today.  It is something more than a simple sociological fact; it is an existential reality that is imposing itself as a way of life, a way of confronting reality, others and the future.

In response, Christians are challenged to “court risks, discomfort and dangers by crossing the threshold, opening closed doors with love and hope, keeping those doors open and taking the Gospel message of God’s reign into the streets and marketplace.”   Such a response gives shape to mercy.

Integrating the Touchstones with mercy

A better world will come about only if attention is first paid to individuals … if no one is neglected, including the poor, the sick, prisoners, the needy and the stranger; if we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture and embracing one of encounter and acceptance.

In Christ, the other is welcomed and loved as a son or daughter of God, as a brother or sister, not as a stranger, much less a rival or even an enemy … they are grafted to Christ … there are no ‘disposable lives’ … This is the reason why no one can remain indifferent before the lot of our brothers and sisters … What is needed is the willingness to ‘lose ourselves’ for the sake of others rather than exploiting them, and to serve them instead of oppressing them for our own advantage. 

The Church is above all a mother that takes care of all people … The announcement of the Gospel requires an opening of the doors; to allow people to enter and allow the Gospel to go out to the world. 

If we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture by embracing a culture of encounter and acceptance, if we dare to lose ourselves for others, then our education will be experienced as liberating and our community members included.  Our young people will come to experience justice and solidarity and will come to recognise that such living is inspired by a spirituality that is Gospel centred.

What might it mean to be a liberating educator with a heart for mercy?  It might mean to have a desire and willingness for being ‘stretched’, to have a heart for crossing thresholds so that our young people are witness to a pioneer of the heart and the lure of an infinite horizon, full of endless possibility …

It is as St Augustine says: pray to desire and aspire to expand the heart. 

We need to be in touch with what can transform us, what makes us confront new questions, what stretches our identity.

Questions to ponder on the way to a merciful heart …

How do you look upon the world?

Where do you need to let go?

How can you live a more merciful life?

What might an education imbued with mercy offer?

What doors in you need to be opened?

What doors in your school need to be opened?


The inspiration for this reflection and many of the quotes contained within have been sourced from an article by Dr Peter Mudge of The Broken Bay Institute and the University of Newcastle. The article is titled, “Yes to opening doors and going outside, No to withdrawal and isolation” – Pope Francis on crossing frontiers and reaching out to the stranger. (2014)