- Relieve isolation and suffering. One of the most incredible acts of mercy I’ve ever seen happened during an intense YES Trip experience on Skid Row in Los Angeles. We were at a mission offering clothes and a woman approached us. She looked weak and had likely been wearing the clothes on her back for days. Our eyes were immediately drawn to her shoes. The soles were detached and they were simply not functional. She sat down and began chatting with some of our Trip participants. After a few minutes passed, I saw one of our YES Leaders run upstairs to where we were staying. I thought something was wrong, but she assured me that everything was fine. When she came downstairs, she looked disappointed. She told me she was looking for shoes to give to the woman and didn’t have the extra pair she thought she had. I told her I would go see what I could find, but she said no. She went back over to where the woman was and sat down…and took off her own shoes. She kindly offered her shoes to the woman. It was incredible to watch the exchange happen. The woman was overwhelmed with joy and walked away with tears and a smile. This is mercy…to relieve suffering without hesitation.
- Foster belonging for all. Every human being has an innate need to experience belonging. For this to happen, each of us needs to foster belonging for others. Our communities become places of belonging when each person is welcomed as they are and valued for who they are. We should seek to be constant creators of safe, comfortable places for others to struggle through what they are experiencing. Peace and healing are the fruit of a welcoming community where each person belongs. When a person is not embraced and welcomed, often they will tragically seek out any place to fit in. This is one of the reasons why people join gangs or become sex workers. They turn to harmful and unhealthy places because their communities have cast them out. Our Lord welcomed each person and visited the homes of people that had been rejected by others. Let us follow the Lord and seek to create places of comfort, healing, and belonging for others.
- Recognize invisible poverty. Mother Teresa said that loneliness is the greatest form of poverty. Most people will likely not reveal to you that they are lonely. Needing verbal confirmation isn’t necessary. What we can do is to be a friend to everyone we encounter. Showing generosity and kindness in every interaction may reach farther than we think. Most of us are suppressing or avoiding pain that is below the surface. You may not be able to see someone’s heart hurting at first, but if you draw near, you may be able to feel it. Whether you see the hurt or it remains invisible, be there. Your presence, without saying a word, is offering a powerful message: You are not alone. And your consistent presence may allow someone to find the courage to reveal the pain they’ve been trying to hide. The power of living with love as the foundation of every encounter makes room for the peace of Christ to connect us, comfort us, and heal us.
- Be an open door. The image of the Prodigal Son going home to his father’s house should be etched in our minds. The son comes home with trepidation, and the father welcomes him without reservation. This is who our God is. He is an open door, ready to welcome us home when we find our way back to Him. If we could even possess an ounce of this abundant mercy, our communities would be closer to looking like images of God’s ideal for us. We would exist in safe spaces where we are not condemned for our weaknesses, but instead are strengthened and forgiven. Instead of running away when we feel less than perfect, we would run to our loving communities to be reminded who we truly are. Instead of being policed by each other, we would be embraced by each other and struggle towards the Lord together. Instead of evaluating each other, we would offer mercy without affirmation or condemnation. When people come to themselves, they’re hurting enough. They don’t need us to punish them. They need us to welcome them home. Let us have open doors and open hearts for each other so that not even one of us feels cast out.
- Love without condition. The love of our Lord is perfect. It is self-emptying and asks for nothing in return. How do we follow after Him and seek to love each other without condition? Offering unconditional love is difficult to do, but simple to understand. When we love unconditionally, our love doesn’t depend on anything. We simply set aside any factor that can keep us from serving someone. We don’t love because we’ve decided someone deserves it. We don’t love based on someone’s circumstances or choices. We don’t love friend first and stranger last. We love because it is what humans are designed to do. Let us conclude with these words from St. John Chrysostom:
“When you see on earth the man who has encountered the shipwreck of poverty, do not judge him, do not seek an account of his life but free him from his misfortune. A judge is one thing, an almsgiver is another. Let us also do this, I beg you, without making any inquiry more than necessary. Need alone is a poor man’s worthiness; if anyone at all ever comes to us with recommendation, let us not meddle any further. We do not provide for the manners but for the man. We show mercy on him not because of his virtue but because of his misfortune, in order that we ourselves may receive from the Master His great mercy, in order that we ourselves, unworthy as we are, may enjoy His philanthropy. For if we are going to investigate the worthiness of our fellow servants, and inquire exactly, God will do the same for us.”
-Katrina Bitar, YES Program Director