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Christ the King of Mercy

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This Sunday, the Solemnity of Christ, King of the Universe, marks the end of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. As the aftermath of the recent election continues to play out, it strikes me that this past year, with its focus on learning what it means to practice mercy, has been a training ground for the days, months, and years to come. Regardless of where one falls on the political spectrum, one must practice mercy, and at the moment, that seems to mean extending mercy toward those who appear to hold views antithetical to our own.

In the world of social media, we can far too easily become insulated: we tell people to un-friend us if they voted for a particular candidate; we mute people from our news feeds if they post too many ideological rants or politically-driven articles; we cultivate a circle of friends who share our viewpoints. In this ‘echo chamber of the like-minded,’ our voices bounce off one another in isolated agreement and self-validation, growing louder and louder until they become a din, and we become incapable of hearing the “still small voice” of God (cf. 1 Kgs 19:11–13) speaking to us through the neighbor whom we ourselves have muted.

Christ the King breaks through the cacophony of our self-righteousness, our anger, our fear, beckoning us to turn to the Cross, where he reigns over the entire universe, extending the love and the mercy of God by pouring himself out unto the end.

Spending the last year pondering mercy in the life of the Church and of the world has already been fruitful in many ways, but in many more ways, the real test still lies ahead—the real fruit of this past year has yet to be borne. To use a well-worn yet apt cliché, we’ve spent the last year learning to talk the talk of mercy, perhaps attending lectures at our parishes or reading books and articles. Now it’s time to walk the walk—to walk alongside Jesus on the Way of the Cross, reaching out in love to people with whom we wouldn’t normally associate and allowing ourselves to be formed by them into a more faithful likeness of the sinless One who allowed himself to be lumped in with sinners, the righteous One who laid self-righteousness aside, the Author of Life who allowed himself to be executed like a common criminal even though, as the good thief proclaims in this Sunday’s Gospel, he had “done nothing criminal” (Lk 23:41).

If we are serious about carrying the Year of Mercy forward in our lives and in our world, this means reaching out in love when we would rather recoil in disbelief and disagreement. It means following Pope Francis’ teaching and example, going to the peripheries to seek out the isolated, perhaps even learning to see those on the opposite side of the political spectrum as those on our own personal peripheries.

Mercy is the only way forward. We cannot remain in the echo chamber of the like-minded, for this will only lead to further establishing those whose views differ from our own as the incomprehensible, irredeemable ‘other’—the ones who must be brought back from the dark side into the realm of the self-proclaimed enlightened. No, we must learn to see the other as our brother, as our sister, as someone who is probably also struggling in ways we could never imagine. We’re called to extend kindness and mercy to our brothers and sisters—to imitate Christ the Good Samaritan and help them in their struggles, no matter how different we perceive them to be.

The Year of Mercy is ending. Now is the time to put into practice those things we’ve been reading about and talking about and praying about. We’ve had a year to learn to be merciful. Time to get to work.

Featured Image: Titian (1490–1576), Christ and the Good Thief (ca. 1556); courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Carolyn Pirtle

Carolyn Pirtle is the associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy and a composer of liturgical music.