When he addressed priest-confessors in his letter to introduce this Year of Mercy, Pope Francis wrote, Let us never forget that to be confessors means to participate in the very mission of Jesus to be a concrete sign of the constancy of divine love that pardons and saves…facilitators of a truly human encounter, a source of liberation, rich with responsibility for overcoming obstacles and taking up the new life of Baptism again. (MV, 17, 18) To be sure, these are words directed to priests, within the context of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but the Holy Father’s words are a challenge for each of us embrace a vocation as a minister of God’s Mercy. Our theology teaches that no one receives a gift simply to enrich her- or himself; spiritual gifts are given to be shared, and to build up the Church.
This Year of Mercy calls us to make those we meet disciples of the same Mercy we have received. In the journey toward God, the more we know, the more we find to love, and the more we love, the more we long to know. When our encounters with others lead them to investigate the story of Jesus – and when that knowledge draws them into a deep and loving personal relationship with our Savior – we have cooperated with God to form a new individual, what a colleague of one of my Dominican brothers calls an “intentional disciple.” In very simple terms, this means our Mercy is capable of inspiring another’s heart and mind to cooperate in becoming a new person.
Collaboration is essential on this journey, and we can all be grateful that the Leadership of the Western Association is looking ahead, to lay a foundation that will encourage its members to celebrate and exercise their charisms of discipleship. This collaboration also brings with it a responsibility to support one another. We are “all in this together,” and Mercy tells us we cannot let one another fail. A contemporary writer, David Whyte, borrows a term from baseball and says this means being willing “to step up to the plate.” Whyte says, too, we must be willing to admit we are – each of us – only a single player on the team, and that our team is only one part of a larger universe. This humility ought to be a source of freedom and surrender, for wholeheartedness is essential to our vocation as disciples and disciple-makers. This unquestionably requires laying aside some things we have grown quite used to. But Jesus spoke no more than the truth when he said he came for division. Division is an unavoidable outcome of choice, because to choose one thing means forswearing every other option. Jesus spoke of divisions in families, but the divisions that truly count are those we make within ourselves, when we choose to embrace God’s will as our own God’s Mercy does not mean discipleship is easy. Still less, that it is always pleasant. It is, however, necessary. The gospel calls us to a wholehearted response, in love, to our Merciful God, and anyone who has ever been in love knows that a lover can never love enough.