All that’s left is pleading for mercy

  • November 9, 2023

Misericordia! I feel this word as a deep cry from my soul in response to these troubled times of unspeakable horror.

Pope Francis in addressing the National Confederation of the ‘Misericordie’ of Italy said, “This word misericordia — mercy — is a Latin word whose etymological meaning is ‘miseris cor dare,’ to ‘give the heart to the wretched,’ those in need, those who are suffering.”

This column is a pleading cry to all of you caught up in the many and varied downward spirals swallowing so much of our human family and mother earth with ugliness and death: Mercy! Give your heart to those who are suffering.

I know there are good reasons to be seduced by the power that violence promises us. I do not condemn the vengeful beasts who are born when their loved ones are maimed and killed. I do not condemn the righteous rage of those who suffer lifetimes of oppression. I do not condemn those who fear for their lives and who say, “I am doing this to survive.” I do not condemn those who say, “choose a side and pick up your weapon.”

I do not condemn, because I have done those things. I do those things. I do not condemn because, as the compendium of the Church’s social doctrine says, “at the root of personal and social divisions, which in differing degrees offend the value and dignity of the human person, there is a wound which is present in humanity’s innermost self.”

This wound, which belongs not only to you but to all of humanity, is why you have picked up that gun. It is why you have dropped that bomb. It is why you have spoken or written those words.  All these things have the power to make that wound feel better, like a balm.

I have felt it myself. Violence can be very empowering. It is precisely why it is so hard to resist. When you embrace violence, the immediate effect is that you do not feel like a victim. You are no longer the poor or the wretched. You are no longer the violated or the aggrieved. You are the power.

To you, the wounded spirit of these evil times, I say: “You are the power. I am not. I cannot slay and destroy you. Please. Mercy.”

This is truly my feeling. I have no defiant words that good will overcome evil. I don’t feel like writing well-researched arguments for one side or another in this conflict or that one. I don’t feel like making vague appeals for peace. I don’t want to go to protests or counter-protests. I do not feel like insisting that justice will prevail. Things have reached a point in the world that all I can do with any sense of authenticity is plead to you for mercy.

It seems like such a pathetic position to be in when I reflect on it — a position without fortitude or courage. I find myself searching for some kind of redemptive dimension to it. There must be a theological perspective on such a feeling that could redeem it or reveal its wisdom. But nothing comes. Perhaps it is something that needs to be left to greater theologians than me.

Only you have the power to give your heart to the wretched. May God grant you the grace to hear my cry. Misericordia. Mercy.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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