The main theme for Krakow in the Capital centered on the beatitude "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7). But what does it mean to be merciful or show mercy? I sometimes fall into the camp that perceives mercy as this abstract concept outside of ourselves, not fully comprehending the difficulty, humility, or love involved in giving and receiving mercy. This line of thought can put us in danger of forgetting where we come from and, more importantly, who we belong to! This WYD theme falls in line with the Jubilee of Mercy, as Pope Francis declared in December 2015. Based on the book of Leviticus, a jubilee occurred every 50 years, in which "God restores all creation to right relationship with one another and with Himself, their Creator, in whom they find rest.” In response, debts were cancelled, slaves were free to return home to their families, possessions returned to their rightful owners, and laborers rested. The spirit of a jubilee year follows God's mercy. And it was at the WYD Stateside event, where we were reminded of His mercy and that it was poured out for us.
Other than spending time with Jesus and nurturing new fellowships, I love feeding my mind during the catechesis portions of conferences, retreats and/or pilgrimages. Many concurrent sessions were offered to participants on topics ranging from finding young adult communities, to living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, to self-guided prayer and reflection on particular saints. The self-guided reflections exposed pilgrims to the lives and relics of two great holy men: (1) Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and (2) St. John Paul II.
God's Mercy reflected in Men
As a young woman close to his age, hearing about the life of Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati piqued my interest. This was a man who lived in a way that upheld the Lord at all times; through his struggles, his friendships, his love for the poor—his heart was ablaze for Christ. Also known as the Man of the Beatitudes, Pier Giorgio was born April 16, 1901 to a mother who was a painter and father who was the director of an influential Italian newspaper. He grew up actively participating in political issues at the time. He went to mass daily. He nurtured a deep love of the poor, often visiting the slums to offer food, medicine, and friendship to society's most rejected. He died at the age of 24 on July 4, 1925. His last action was scribbling a message to a friend, asking him to administer medicine to Converso, a poor sick man he had been visiting. Christ's mercy and love drove this young man to respond in kind to those around him, especially to those without.
Patron of WYD, Karol Jozef Wojtyla (St. John Paul II) was born in Wadowice, Poland, on May 18, 1920. Growing up in Poland during a time of great political strife and war, Karol took to peaceful forms of advocacy, helping protect Jews during the German occupancy and taking part in a community theatre group. His pontificate was also incredibly fruitful; he began the World Youth Day rallies, encouraged many ecumenical initiatives, wrote 14 encyclicals and five books, canonized 482 saints and beatified 1,338 people.
On Calvary, when Christ was being nailed to the cross, do you remember what he cried out? "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34). Two years after being shot six times at a close range, twice in the stomach, once in the right arm and on the left arm, St. John Paul II visited and forgave the man who attempted to assassinate him in 1981. One of the most influential pictures of St. John Paul II was taken as he visited his would-be assassin, a public display of forgiveness and mercy (see title photo). Like Pier Giorgio, his whole life was a reflection of Christ's mercy to other people.
Contemplating the lives of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati and St. John Paul II throughout WYD, I understood something that I didn't fully acknowledge before: mercy is not just some abstract concept, but an act of the will.
Mercy as a choice
Both of these men of God, were part of the world but not of the world. Through their lives, they demonstrated that mercy is an act, a choice. Mercy is a response to that which was shown to us first by Christ. The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy are perfect examples of the actions we can perform to extend God’s compassion and mercy to those in need. Now, the Lord doesn’t promise that it will always be easy to extend this mercy, but He does guarantee to never leave our side through the difficulties (Isaiah 43:2). I can assure you, the devil will be at your back trying to dissuade you, but the Lord will be faithful if you're willing to put up a fight and give Him your "yes!" So how do we, everyday take up the cross and show mercy to our brothers and sisters?
I would start from the home. When you’re not getting along with siblings or parents—put on the cross of Christ. This is truly where we can show the greatest mercy! As a young girl, when my little brother and I fought (as siblings do), I would literally throw on my First Communion cross—a thick, bold, wooden cross—and “transform” into “Miranda, the magically patient sister”. This Miranda would try to remain calm and peaceful in the midst of disagreement. Now, as an adult, I strive to approach life's difficulties in the same manner—by thinking about how Jesus would respond (WWJD!). The very desire to enter into prayer or to do good, comes from Him who created us! Simple actions like taking those moments to encourage a friend, holding your tongue in an argument, offering up your impatience with rush hour traffic—these are the small actions, small mercies we can live out for our brothers and sisters. As St. Teresa of Calcutta said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
So, just as this WYD has encouraged me to prayerfully contemplate the lives of the saints, I pray that we all will also be holy witnesses of the Lord's mercy for others.