The Jubilee Year of Mercy provides all of us with so many wonderful opportunities to reflect, pray, learn and act.

Pope Francis reminds all of us in Misericordiae Vultus, the proclamation that opened the year that Jesus is the “FACE” of the Father’s mercy. Jesus reveals the mercy of God by His words, actions and person.  We follow Jesus’ example when we open ourselves to the Father’s mercy by looking sincerely into the eyes of our brothers and sisters.  This year of mercy gives us the opportunity to reflect:

How have I experienced the Father’s mercy in my life?

How is Jesus calling me to look into the eyes of those in need?

Another way Pope Francis phrases it is “to ENCOUNTER the other.” Who are we called to encounter?  Maybe it’s an estranged neighbor, a cranky relative, a disagreeable co-worker, a teenage son or daughter, a hungry family struggling to put healthy food on their table.

Pope Francis goes on to say: “It is absolutely essential for the Church and for the credibility of her message that she live and testify to mercy. Mercy is “the beating heart of the Gospel.”  To live mercy, we must rediscover both the spiritual works of mercy and the corporal works of mercy.  In this, we’ll focus on feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, but we can also consider- are these the works of mercy I am being called to practice?  If not, what am I being called to?

Some works of mercy are easier for us than others. One suggestion is to practice a different work of mercy each week or each month.  Pray about it and decide where you need to grow.  Feeding the hungry has always come easy for me.  Even as a young child and with encouragement from my family, I was drawn to the poor and hungry.  My concern and actions continued throughout high school and into college.  In my junior year at St. Joseph’s University, I had the pleasure of working with Father Ed Brady, SJ who was charged with planning the second day of the Eucharistic Congress, whose theme was the “Hungers of the Human Family.”  On day two, we focused on the Hunger for Food and I came to realize the profound connection between Eucharist and feeding the hungry.  As Jesus feeds us, we are called to feed one another.  Father Brady’s favorite gospel was “The Road to Emmaus” in which the disciples came to recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  Wouldn’t it be great if people recognized us as Jesus’ followers in the breaking of the bread today?  As a result of my work with the Eucharistic Congress, I met the Director of the Archdiocesan Community Food Program and came to realize all the ways that the Archdiocese reaches out to the hungry in our own community.  When I learned the Community Food program director was moving on, I applied for the job and have worked with the Archdiocesan office of Nutritional Development Services for 37 years.

I have been blessed to have this as my life work and passion. Although aware of the numbers and statistics,(46 million people living in hunger, including 1 in 5 children who experience poverty and an additional 14.7 million people are “near-poor”), I have always tried to put a face and a name on the persons in need.  In an address back in June, 2014, Pope Francis shared:

“We have at our disposal so much information and so many statistics on poverty and hunger. There is a risk of being highly informed bystanders and disembodied from these realities, or to have nice discussions that end up in verbal solutions and disengagement from the real problems.  He goes on to say: “Too many words, too many words, too many words and nothing is done.  What’s needed is work, Christian testimony, going to the suffering, getting close to them as Jesus did.”

In our work at NDS, we look at it as the Modern Day Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes. We all know the story- 5,000 people sat hungry before Jesus.  The disciples saw scarcity and they suggested people go home and fend for themselves.  Jesus stepped in to transform the frugal thinking into the mystery of abundance.  5 loaves and 2 fish became a miracle.

We put out the call to schools, churches, businesses and the response is overwhelming. We collect enough food to share with 50 food cupboards and soup kitchens which serve over 2 million meals.

In the work of feeding the hungry, there’s always something each of us can do.

It might be as simple as making an extra meal for the Aid for Friends program, making a casserole for St. John’s Hospice or organizing a food collection in your school or parish. Oftentimes, generosity has NOTHING to do with means and EVERYTHING to do with DESIRE.

The second corporal work of mercy I’ll touch upon is to give drink to the thirsty –which is most important to our global brothers and sisters. It’s hard for us to imagine life without water since it is always there for us- we push a button, turn a knob and it is there but more than 748 million people lack access to clean water. That’s almost 2.5 times the population of the United States.  Water is essential to life but approximately one in nine people still do not have it.  Every minute a child dies of a water-related disease.  In my role as Catholic Relief Services Director, I see how our Rice Bowl donations help to build wells, irrigation systems for crops, hygiene and sanitation programs through hand-washing stations and latrines.

We can make a difference. We can live out the work of mercy that calls us to give drink to the thirsty by supporting Rice Bowl, by praying for those who do not have running water or who walk miles to get water to drink, cook, clean and bathe.  We can also donate water to local outreach programs that serve the homeless.

Two other powerful ways to consider mercy-

Mercy is to enter into the chaos of another. So often the poor and the hungry live lives of chaos- not knowing where their next meal is coming from – who will help with child care – how they will get to an appointment, etc.  When we enter into the chaos of others- we show mercy.  We look at others with the eyes of compassion as Jesus does.

The world in which we live is a competitive world: there are winners/losers; black/white; left/right but Jesus challenges us to look at people with the eyes of compassion. With compassion, I realize I am much more similar than unlike others.

The last definition of mercy I share comes from the word, Misericordia, which is Latin for mercy and means “to give our heart to the wretched” to those in need –those who are suffering. That is what Jesus did.  He opened his heart to the wretchedness of us men and women.

In this Year of Mercy, may we open our hearts to those who are hungry and thirsty and touch them with love and compassion.