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  • Writer's pictureKatie Davis-Crowder

Some Mercy Now

“MERCY is NOT table fry sharing!”

Almost twenty years after leaving our Mercy high school, my best friend and I still exchange this absurd exclamation back and forth every once in a while. We’re referencing a guy we knew back then, who—in an immature Senior Week moment—summed up another brilliant friend’s entire graduation speech this way. “MERCY is NOT table fry sharing,” as in, “Giving a french fry to your friend at your lunch table does not constitute mercy.” 

I wish I could remember the particulars of her actual reflection, which was, as I recall, truly insightful. Even without those details, though, the heart of mercy—what it is, what it isn’t, and for whom it is—permeates my spirituality. In today’s reading from Acts, in Catholic Tradition, and in my experiences as a new mother in 2024, I find the clear invitation to mercy—both to offer and to receive it—especially on this Divine Mercy Sunday. 

Mercy can be one of those spiritual ideals that is mentioned often in religious spaces, but that can feel a bit far-off and amorphous. Diverse biblical translations in both the Old and New Testaments use the word mercy interchangeably and/or alongside others like lovingkindness, graciousness, compassion, forgiveness, salvation, faithfulness, tenderness, and even womb. To understand mercy more particularly, perhaps the most apt question is what does mercy look like? 

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, one week after Easter, we see mercy coursing through the guidelines for early Christian communities outlined in Acts. All money and property were shared communally, regardless of from whom it came. Rather than maintaining individual wealth, or even practicing equality, wherein everyone would receive the same amount regardless of circumstances, early Christians valued equity. They distributed goods according to need, a far more merciful approach. Practicing mercy within the community freed the early Christians to practice mercy toward people outside it.

Flowing out of Gospel values, the centuries-old Catholic tradition of the Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy also captures mercy in action, demonstrating mercy’s expansiveness. An antidote to dualistic thinking, the Works of Mercy empower us to stay connected rather than placing the spiritual over and against the bodily, the mind over and against the matter, and the masculine over and against the feminine. Mercy calls us to a “both/and” perspective, reminding us that love of God necessarily moves us to work for justice. Prayer necessarily moves us to action. 

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

Instruct the ignorant

Counsel the doubtful

Admonish the sinner

Bear wrongs patiently

Forgive offenses willingly

Comfort the afflicted

Pray for the living and the dead

Grateful contemplation of God’s world

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

Feed the hungry

Give drink to the thirsty

Clothe the naked

Welcome the stranger

Visit the sick

Visit the imprisoned

Bury the dead

Care for our common home

Rooted in the Works of Mercy, the Sisters of Mercy, as well as their associates, educators, and apostolates, embody mercy through direct service and the dismantling of unjust systems. My high school experience instilled in me this commitment. As the Mercy Core Values explain, in part:

Mercy students, in the spirit of our founder Catherine McAuley, are steadfastly determined to take Mercy into an interconnected world. Our shared sense of social consciousness is fortified by universal empathy and a conviction that all are worthy of God’s mercy. This deep awareness and compassion move us to take principled action and serve the needs of others. 

So no, mercy is not table fry sharing. It’s not that easy. But just as in early Christianity, mercy also cannot be earned, neither through striving, nor through experiencing the “right” amount or type of struggle. In high school, women taught me, in word and deed, what mercy is, what it looks like. Yet how often do we as women struggle to accept mercy from God and other people? 

In my earliest postpartum days, I found myself intensely emotional, anxious, overwhelmed, and scared. I beat myself up daily for all my perceived inadequacies, while also feeling deeply grateful for health, resources, family and friend support, and a baby I totally adored. 

On those same days in January, starving mothers of newborns in Gaza were giving their babies dates to suck on because they couldn’t produce milk, and formula was unavailable.

How can it be that God’s mercy abides when this is the world?

How can it be that God has any mercy left for me when this is the world?

Mercy is a reflection of the Mystery of the Resurrection, a way of being that can hold complexity. It includes the divine and the human, the transcendent and the mundane, the communal and the individual, the unthinkable and the everyday, the profoundly complicated and profoundly simple. Sometimes mercy looks like new motherhood.

In “Mercy Now,” the singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier evokes the Abundance of our Merciful God. She paints vivid pictures of the universal need for mercy: for her father, her brother, her Church and her country, every living thing, and all of us, all at once. When she repeats the closing lyric, “Every single one of us could use some mercy now,” the listener gets the feeling that we just might get it…that there’s endless mercy to go around. 

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