There are a million valid reasons why this year should be the Year of Mercy. There are a million valid reasons why last year should have been the Year of Mercy. And there are a million valid reasons why next year should have been the Year of Mercy. But the fact remains that this year is the Year of Mercy. But why?
This year is the Year of Mercy because we’ve wandered, aimlessly, for too long in the trenches of modernity; and drugging through its muddy trenches for as long as we have has led us to lose sight of hope. God’s infinite mercy manifested in the nature of this most special year hopes to restore that hope. We need only to freely receive his mercy, and hope will follow.
But for some reason it seems that we struggle to ask for forgiveness and seek our loving Father’s infinite mercy. Why is that? I think the atrocities of the most recent centuries are at the root of it, but they are not an excuse to turn away from God’s mercy. Instead, they provide a greater reason why we need his mercy now more than ever.
The 20th and 21st centuries have been some of the most destructive times witnessed by mankind. The attempted systematic execution of entire races, bombs that can demolish entire cities, and the legalization of abortion are just a few of the atrocities endured. I don’t mean to get doom and gloom, though I certainly mean to touch a bit upon the darkness of our times.
But the horrors of these past centuries are not the focus of my argument. In fact, to dwell too long on the horrors of the 20th and 21st would work against what this year is all about—mercy, and the hope that stems from it.
We’ve dug trenches to hide from the troubles and difficulties of our present time, too afraid to peep out, fearing that all we’ll find is shattered trees, craters, and corpses. But our eyes should not stop at no man’s land, but turn to the heavens. Though the land might look barren, search and I assure you that you’ll find some life, some piece of flora—perhaps a poppy. And even if you were only able to find one, that would be enough because even one is evidence of the sun above. Although storms can ravage the land, the rain they bring makes the green things grow.
Hope is a grace as well as a virtue, so how can we, if we never ask, receive hope? And if we never receive hope, how can we look above? The slightest glimmer of hope is enough for me; it’s the flower in no man’s land. My parents no longer enjoy watching darker movies, and with good cause. They’ve seen enough darkness and would rather avoid it. Yet, avoid it as much as you may, you can’t avoid all of it.
I, on the other hand, have no problem with movies that are a bit dark; in fact, a few of my favorite movies are bit dark. Maybe I can handle the darkness because I haven’t filled up my capacity for darkness (though, does anyone really have such a capacity?). Yet I believe I can deal with darkness better because of my appreciation for the contrast it provides between what is wrong and what is right. It’s harder to avoid evil when it has the appearance of an angel, and so I’m happy when evil is ugly so that I might better identify it and avoid it.
With hope, that glimmer of light in the darkness, all evil seems to fade to the background—a black background from which Jesus steps towards us, like in the Vilnius Divine Mercy Image. Yet, the Image, like any medium, has a certain limitation: it only shows one frame of the action. If the Vilnius Image were only a single frame from a video reel, I like to think that every frame that followed would show Jesus steadily picking up speed as he runs towards us, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. Because out of his great love, he runs to meet us where we are and embraces us in his mercy; we only have to accept it.
Although the horrors and darkness of the past two centuries might be the reason for the recent emphasis on mercy and hope, I think it is important to point out the fallacy in believing our current times are the darkest ever. There seems to be a bit of pride in such a statement. Yes, there are certainly horrendous things that have taken place in our times, but did not past centuries have their difficulties? Yes. Were they worse than the difficulties we face? It would be very hard to make and an objective comparison because we have only experienced the horrors of our times.
When we fall into the error of getting too caught up in the depravity of our times, we fail to see the good in our lives. Making comparisons of how things are so much worse than they were does not help us reach where we want to be. And in the darkness of our times, we often reiterate the same despair as Frodo in Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time.”
And before Frodo even has time to brood over his disparity, Gandalf answers like a light in the darkness:
“So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
Without a doubt, the cry of suffering from the people of every age has mirrored that of Frodo’s. And in every age God has responded that comparing the hardships of our age to others will not resolve the problem at hand. Instead, we must realize that all we have is now—not the Classical Age of Rome or the High Middle Ages—and it’s up to us to make the best of now, so that then, when we’ve departed from this valley of tears, our trials and suffering will not have been in vain but for our salvation.
And so, to depart a little from what I set out to do in the beginning—prove why this year is the Year of Mercy—I state simply that this is the Year of Mercy. Yes, I believe the atrocities of the past century are one of the reasons why this year is Year of Mercy. And yes, there is merit to discussing why mercy and hope are so important now. But it would be a mistake to get too caught up in thinking of the why instead of taking advantage of the graces and opportunities this amazing year offers.
I live, now, in the Year of Mercy, the age of mercy; and instead of wishing I had lived in some other age, I embrace the now and make the most of it. God wishes to cleanse the mistakes and sins of the most recent ages, and, more importantly, our own sins. I have now to make the most of his mercy, and that is all I have to worry about.