SASKATOON — A spirituality of mercy is the willingness to love one another in our brokenness, Leah Perrault recently told a crowd gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Family for the third in a series of reflections for the Year of Mercy.
“Mercy is the offering of love to the broken, by the broken,” Perrault said March 6, during a talk about the spirituality of mercy, filled with stories of mercy in ordinary life.
Perrault recently began working for Emmanuel Care, a health care organization that oversees a number of Catholic hospitals and care homes in the province. She is also the mother of three, an author and a speaker, with a master’s degree in pastoral theology from St. Michael’s College, Toronto.
Asking her listeners to share examples of times when they experienced or extended mercy, Perrault noted that mercy is not necessarily a grandiose project.
“In my experience, mercy is not a massive undertaking, or something that someone has calculated for months in advance. Often the person who offers mercy doesn’t even know what it is they are doing. There is some sense of kindness, some generosity in the midst of need.”
It is because we are the ones most in need of mercy that we are capable of offering it, Perrault insisted, pointing out that mercy does not come from a place of power or condescension, but rather from shared brokenness.
“We worship a God who chose to be broken, to be human, to be crucified, so that he could relate to our brokenness, and so ultimately that we could receive that mercy from him because he was one of us.”
Mercy does not stand in opposition to truth or to justice, she stressed, but rather is “the freedom to experience the consequences of our actions in the context of love.
“Grace underlies the whole thing. If we understand grace as a super-abundant gift that has nothing to do with what we deserve, then we can understand that our role in mercy — either giving it or receiving it — has very little to do with us.” Mercy begins and ends with God, she said. “We are able to show mercy because God has given it to us first.”
Perrault cited a prayer from St. Faustina Kowalska, the 20th-century Polish nun who shared a message about trusting in the divine mercy of God: “Help me, O Lord, that my heart may be merciful so that I myself may feel all the sufferings of my neighbour. I will refuse my heart to no one. I will be sincere even with those who, I know, will abuse my kindness. And I will lock myself up in the most merciful heart of Jesus.”
Perrault noted that there is a difference between knowing about God and knowing God. Too often we mistake the idea of religiosity or piety with having all the right answers, rather than being engaged in a relationship with Jesus.
Perrault explored the challenges of living out a spirituality of mercy.
“I am so good at making sure mercy never reaches me,” she said, describing her struggle with depression and moving beyond the false idea that she had to earn love. “I have all these amazing relationships in my life where people are pouring out love, and when I mess up, they are forgiving me over and over,” she said, but she found that she was not really receiving that mercy or accepting forgiveness. Her own spiritual walk has been learning to let that love and mercy wash over her, rather than building walls to keep them out.
Following Dorothy Day’s observation that everything a baptized Christian does should be directly or indirectly related to the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy, Perrault reflected on everyday expressions of feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, freeing the imprisoned and burying the dead, of instructing the ignorant, counselling the doubtful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offences willingly, comforting the afflicted and praying.
The corporal and spiritual acts of mercy simply involve “the ability to notice that someone needs something, and to show up to provide it just because you can, even if it is inconvenient to you — to share what you’ve got with somebody else who needs it.”
The homeless and the hungry are all around us, even if we live in the suburbs. “Who are the homeless in my neighbourhood? Who are the people who go home to a place with lots of stuff but have nowhere to call home?” she asked. “How many people in our culture have no friends, or are lacking connections, or don’t feel at home, even though they are there? And what can I do to ease that?”
She provided a series of practical examples about living acts of mercy: in choosing not to ostracize, in reaching out to protect those who are vulnerable, in responding with solidarity and encouragement to those wrestling with doubt, and in sharing the wisdom of experience with those who are seeking.
Expressing profound gratitude for the mercy and love she herself has received, Perrault concluded with the call to live mercy as a witness in the world. “We have been given this great deposit of faith, not for us to hold in our heads and lord over other people, but for us to practice imperfectly, moment by moment, day by day.”