Tag Archives: year of mercy

Make of Our Hearts a Home

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

Contact Author



We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy.

It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it.

Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 2.

In Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Year of Mercy, he invites us all to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” As I began to contemplate the mystery of God’s mercy in preparation for the Year of Mercy, I pondered the question: “How can I better respond to the gift of God’s mercy in my own life?” As I prayed, my attention was drawn ever more deeply to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – the practices of enacting and proclaiming God’s mercy through concrete acts of love.

Thinking of ways that I could incorporate the works of mercy into my life, I came up with ideas involving volunteering at the local homeless drop-in shelter, helping sort and deliver food from the parish food bank, donating clothes and household goods. All good ideas, but in the busyness I let fill my days they remained that – just ideas.

An impediment to practicing mercy is our lack of awareness and attentiveness to the needs of others. We can become so wrapped up in the challenges of our day-to-day lives – even lives of discipleship and ministry – that we become blind to the realities of pain and struggle around us.

Earlier this summer, I witnessed a moment of God’s mercy at work transforming a young man’s heart in the reception of the Eucharist that I reflected on in a previous post. As I prayed with this encounter, I experienced a profound renewal of my call to serve as an Eucharistic minister and I committed to regularly serving at my parish’s Sunday liturgy.

As I would distribute communion each week – to the elders of the parish, teens with sleep in their eyes, families with young children clinging to their legs, adults attending alone – I felt my heart continue to grow in love for the entire people of God, the diverse members of the community gathered together each Sunday in the pews. And during the times that I would need to go out into the congregation to those who could not come forward due to physical limitations, I felt an even stronger bond with the parish family.

044a70b7-a5e5-4f6f-b09d-ecf241ca71b5Then I returned home, back to my normal routine and my attempts to practice the corporal works of mercy on my own terms, according to my own plan. And the good intentions were overshadowed by excuses of “I’m too busy this week” or “I’m sure they have enough help.” Yet each week as I received and shared the Body of Christ, God slowly chipped away at the hardness of my heart, transforming my heart more closely into the Heart of Christ, a heart poured out in love unto death in mercy for the world.

The mercy of God penetrated into the closed-off space of my heart, shattering the limitations I had placed upon my ability to show mercy. God hollowed out space for me to allow God to “make of my heart a home.” It is my Eucharistic vocation to share the grace of mercy that I have received, to go forth and practice mercy, to offer myself in love.806cbaf6-5233-45db-bdad-2681fc7ce7ef

One day, when I heard the priest announce they were in need of people to take the Eucharist to those members of the parish community who were unable to attend mass, I felt a pull within me to respond. If I am to become that which I receive, if I am to be transformed into Eucharist for the world, and I take that seriously, it troubles me that there are those unable to participate in the Eucharistic celebration, those homebound due to illness or infirmity.

I contacted the priest and was paired with an older couple who had been long-time parishioners, but with the wife’s recent diagnosis and decline was no longer able to leave the house for mass. Due to the seriousness of her illness, there was a chance that her condition would quickly deteriorate, and that I may only be visiting with them for a short time. My Eucharistic vocation to share the mercy I received lead me to the corporal work of mercy of “visiting the sick.”

7d5ba0f5-757d-4d1e-bef9-68e98f47ab5aIn my parish, at the end of the communion rite the priest places the host in the pyx, and those ministering to the homebound come forward. Each week I would stand with the pyx on my open hand as the priest sent us forth with a blessing. I would take hold of the pyx, grasping it in my hand throughout the final blessing, the concluding rites and closing song. Then I would head straight out to my car for the five-minute drive to their house.

My visits usually consisted of a few minutes of conversation about Notre Dame football with her husband, and she would join in if she felt up to it. But often her energy level was very low, so we would move into a simplified rite in continuity with the celebration of the liturgy just concluded.

? Peace be with this house and with all who live here.

 Lord Jesus, you healed the sick: Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you forgave sinners: Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you give us yourself to heal us and bring us strength: Lord, have mercy.

I held aloft the body of our crucified savior, whose wounds are transfigured in the glory of the resurrection.

 The Body of Christ.


As I placed the host in her mouth I prayed, not for healing – which was unlikely at that point – but for wholeness. For a sense of peace and solidarity in the midst of suffering and pain.

 All-powerful God, we thank you for the nourishment you give us through your holy gift. Pour out your Spirit upon us and in the strength of this food from heaven, keep us single minded in your service. We ask this in the name of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

As I left each Sunday, I sat in my car for a few moments before driving away to say a short prayer of thanksgiving for the movement of God’s mercy in my life that brought me to that moment, that couple, that grace.14d26c54-a76a-4dd5-8cfe-bdd1da67a379

One Sunday as I prepared to drive over after mass, I checked my phone to find a voicemail from her husband saying I didn’t need to come over as she was not doing well, and they were preparing for her death. Two days later I received word that she had passed away.

We had not spoken much during my visits due to her health, but were able to communicate about the most essential truth – the merciful love of God. She made the final journey through suffering nourished by his Body and comforted by the hope of the resurrection.

When I attended her funeral, God wasn’t finished teaching me about the boundless expanse of mercy. Due to the number of people present, I was asked to serve as an Eucharistic Minister, sharing once more the Bread of Life, this time with her friends and family gathered to say farewell. As I looked into her husband’s eyes, I witnessed the depths of his grief, but also the hope of the resurrection. What began as sharing the Eucharist at mass lead me to enter her home with the gift of Christ’s Body from the family gathered at the parish and ultimately to accompany her on her journey to her final home. My Eucharistic vocation to share the mercy I received led me to corporal work of mercy of “burying the dead.”

God’s mercy continues to work within me. God “makes of my heart a home,” a home of mercy and love that goes forth into the world. In my brokenness I am a vessel transmitting the gift I have received through concrete actions in response to the needs of the world. And in the action, the practice of mercy, I become merciful.

Make of our hands a throne

to hold the Bread of heaven,

make of our hearts a home

to hold the very wine of life.

In this myst’ry, Lord, make us one with you.

Hidden Annunciations

Renee RodenRenée Roden, ND ’14

Teacher and Playwright, New York City


And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [Mary], having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of greeting this should be. (Luke 1:28-29)

The Annunciation is a moment in history that is frequently depicted in Western art. And for good reason, given that the moment when the eternal God took up form as a human inside the womb of the Virgin Mary is certainly a contender for the title of Most Important Moment in all of Creation. Throughout the millennia since that moment, myriad artists have captured the moment in paint and pen—from ancient iconographers to pre-Raphaelites. Take, for example, this famous painting by Leonardo DaVinci. The painting’s composition is fairly typical an image of the Annunciation: Mary sits in a landscape that combines both elements of a private bedchamber and a garden landscape, to emphasize the private and intimate moment of conception occurring. She is a “garden enclosed” (Song of Songs, 4:12) In her chambers, the Virgin is pondering the Scriptures—the Word of God—and lo and behold Gabriel appears, and announces the Word of God will take flesh inside of her.UntitledOne of the most captivating images is, in my mind, Botticelli’s mystical and intriguing image of the Annunciation. For in this painting, the Virgin and the angel appear to be in separate spaces. In the Da Vinci painting, Gabriel and Mary exist in a common visual world. But in the Botticelli painting, a strong column cuts the picture in half, demarcating a clear, sharp divide between the world of the angel and the world of the virgin. Although Mary humbly inclines her body in response to the words that Gabriel speaks, indicating he has had some effect on her, she does not seem to see him. There is a distance between the two figures that implies a divide between their two planes of reality. In this moment Botticelli has captured the divide between the supernatural and the natural that the Incarnation bridges.

This painting suggests to me that perhaps the revelation of Gabriel to Mary was, like many revelations of the divine in our lives, not as clear as we imagine it to be. As we ponder this great mystery from our privileged position of the future, we see the story clearly. Oh, of course, Mary, the Immaculate Conception, must, in this moment clearly understand and accept God’s will for her life, because she was conceived without the stain of original sin, and thus she is fully open to God’s will, etc., etc. The story is quite clear to us.

But Mary, even in this moment of divine revelation, during which she learns of her role as the Mother of God, does not have a full understanding of what is occurring. Gabriel greets her with the words: “hail, full of grace” and Mary, the Evangelist tells us, is troubled. She does not understand what this greeting means.

Untitled 2When Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, she identified herself in a manner that was also troubling for Bernadette’s contemporaries. She identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Not just as “one immaculately conceived,” but as “The Immaculate Conception.” St. Maximilian Kolbe dedicated his life to understanding this mystery, and teasing out the mystery of who Mary Immaculate is, and why she identifies herself as THE Immaculate Conception. Maximilian begins with attempting to understand the relationship between Mary, the Mother of God, and with the Holy Spirit, her spouse and the Third Person of the Trinity.

In the reflections he wrote in the hours before he was arrested by the Gestapo, on the night of February 17, 1941, Maximilian Kolbe wrote that the Holy Spirit is “The flowering of the love of the Father and the Son.” Thus, “the Holy Spirit is, therefore, the “uncreated, eternal conception,” the prototype of all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe. The Father begets; the Son is begotten; the Spirit is the “conception” that springs from their love.”

Maximilian Kolbe describes the Holy Spirit as the “uncreated Immaculate Conception,” the eternally conceived in the love between the Father and the Son. And Mary, who was so closely united to God, “most completely filled with this love, filled with God himself, was the Immaculata, who never contracted the slightest stain of sin, who never departed in the least from God’s will. United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature. Thus, Mary is the created Immaculate Conception.

St. Maximilian goes on:

“In the Holy Spirit’s union with Mary we observe more than the love of two beings; in one there is all the love of the Blessed Trinity; in the other, all of creation’s love. So it is that in this union heaven and earth are joined; all of heaven with all the earth, the totality of eternal love with the totality of created love. It is truly the summit of love.”

The title of Immaculate Conception is truly magnificent. Mary has been given the gift of belonging to the fundamental reality of the Trinity in a very intimate way. Thus, the Immaculate Conception, meaning Mary’s intimate union with the Trinity, becomes an image for us of how deeply God loves us, and how keenly He thirsts for our union with Him. He desires each human being to be brought into the deep union of the trinity, with no spot of original sin, no obstacle to mar the perfect gift of love between Creature and Creator.

Mary’s revelation at Lourdes is truly astounding: for Mary reveals herself using a name for herself that she would never have been able to fathom during her earthly life. This humble handmaiden of the Lord did not know who she truly was, during her life here on earth. Mary of Nazareth could not have known she was the Immaculata, for the accomplishment of the mission of the Immaculate Conception was the death and Resurrection of her Son. Mary’s own purpose on earth would never be fully clear to her unless viewed through the lens of the Paschal Mystery.

Certainly, Mary knew something of the mission God had given to her: to be the mother of Jesus, who she knew was the Son of God, the one who would redeem Israel. But she did not know the depth of her own vocation. When we see Mary as the Immaculate Conception, we see her as an image of how God wishes we all could be: united so intimately with Him, with no blot of sin to mar our union with Him. Mary knew nothing of this. She did not know that, as the Immaculate Conception, she would become a model of discipleship, the pinnacle of all creation, a sign for all time of how God wishes for each of us to be united to Him.

Although Mary proclaims in her Magnificat that from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (Luke 1: 48-49) she could not have fully understood her own importance, nor how true that statement would be. For the historical Mary of Nazareth could not see herself with the clarity with which we see her today. The full truth of her own Magnificat would remain hidden from her her entire life on earth.

For Mary would never know this name for herself–the Immaculate Conception–until she had entered into the beatific vision of heaven. The hiddenness of her own vocation reiterates the great beauty of this sign of God’s love for us all. It causes me to wonder what sort of graces we all have been blessed with, that we will never fully understand until we have finished our pilgrimage and are finally home with God.

This brings to mind the fifth of the glorious mysteries of the Rosary: Mary is crowned queen of heaven and earth. Unlike the other mysteries, this mystery of the rosary is not in Scriptures, or apocryphal sources (such as the narrative attributed to St. John, that narrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin), But perhaps it deserves its place in the mysteries of the rosary, as a marker of the “most highly favored one,” the one who is full of grace, finally coming fully into her own, finally understanding that mysterious greeting of the angel so long ago. What a surprise it must have been to Mary, the woman who identified herself solely as the handmaid of the Lord, to learn how highly exalted her place was in heaven.

Perhaps we will not be able to fully understand ourselves this side of heaven. What marvels God is working in us and through us now, that we will never be able to see until we have finally fully entered into heavenly union with God. In the words of St. Paul:“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, is what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor. 2,9).

Practicing Mercy

Jessica Keating_headshotJessica Keating, M.Div.
Human Dignity and Life Initiatives,
University of Notre Dame

Contact Author

For those of a certain generation, the word mercy will forever conjure the image of a leather-clad, feather-haired Uncle Jesse, exclaiming, “Have mercy.” If not, you can watch a 2-two minute summary here.

Somehow, I don’t think this is what Pope Francis had in mind when he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy, set to begin tomorrow on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. In the papal bull announcing the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus, Francis writes:

Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy. . . . Whoever sees Jesus sees the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). Jesus of Nazareth, by his words, his actions, and his entire person reveals the mercy of God. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (§§1–2).

In some ways the declaration of a year of mercy seems hopelessly inadequate. The pragmatist in me scoffs at mercy. Mercy is too dangerous; it is too costly.  In world beset by violence and terrorism, where it seems all the news is bad news—bombings, shootings, kidnappings, natural disasters—mercy seems, well, not quite up to the task. Mercy seems reckless and imprudent. When things are better, when the world is safer, then it will be time for mercy. For now, mercy can wait.

But mercy doesn’t wait. It runs out into the danger; it bears the cost. Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium anticipates Misericordiae Vultus. Francis avers that Christ, the sacrament of salvation, is God’s work of mercy (cf. EG, §112). God’s mercy comes out to meet us, while we bear the weight of sin. God doesn’t wait for things to get better, for the world to be safer before sending his beloved Son. God enters into the quagmire most imprudently as an infant needing a home—as a helplessly needy, nearly blind infant. The eternal Word becomes speechless. The one through whom the entire cosmos is created and sustained in being is now hidden. Mercy is enthroned in the obscurity of the manger.

The recklessness of God! In The Portal to the Mystery of Hope, French poet Charles Péguy captures the audacity of divine mercy:

Terrible love, terrible charity,
Terrible hope, truly terrible responsibility,portal

The Creator has need of his creature, put himself in need of his creature.
And can’t do anything without it.
A king who has abdicated into the hands of each of his subjects
Merely absolute power.
God needs us, God needs his creature.
. . .
What rashness. What confidence.
Well or misplaced confidence, that all depends on us.
What hope, what obstinacy, what one-sidedness, what incurable strength of hope. (84–85)

God places himself in our hands. In his reckless and inefficient mercy, God hopes in us. We are called to show mercy because mercy has been shown to us in the person of Christ Jesus (cf. MV, §9). As an expression of the God who is love, mercy is always personal. It resides in the immaculate womb of Mary. Mercy heals the sick and forgives sinners. Mercy flows from Christ’s open side. Mercy welcomes the prodigal son home; mercy searches for the lost sheep; mercy endures for our sake. In the flesh of love, Christ’s flesh, mercy comes into the world to embrace, heal, weep, pray, and delight with us.

Mercy is never abstract. It is a practice of love, and like all practices, it is concretized by doing something somewhere. It takes place in the michelangelo_caravaggio_30_the_seven_works_of_mercyshadows, on the peripheries, and in the mundane realities of daily life. Yet in its hiddenness, mercy is the antidote to despair; it is the work of hope which remains “impossible to extinguish; as that little flame in the sanctuary” (Péguy, 7). Mercy is a form of life that flows from the pierced side of Christ. It is a form of life that puts us at the disposal of another. By practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy— feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger, visiting the sick, visiting the imprisoned, burying the dead; instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses, comforting the afflicted, praying for the living and the dead—we participate in form of life that renders present the work of mercy in every age.

Answering the Call To Mercy: Notre Dame Vision 2016

unnamedMegan Shepherd

Associate Director, Notre Dame Vision 

As the Church enters into the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis in Misericordiae Vultus (11 April 2015), the Notre Dame Vision program responds to his call to “gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3).

In the summer of 2016, we will focus all of our programing (including keynote speakers, small group discussions, prayer experiences and personal reflection) through the lens of “Answering the Call to Mercy.”  Vision CYM, which is tailored specifically to Campus and Youth Ministers, will include a week of presentations exploring different dimension of mercy ( the below titles are subject to revision):

  • A Vision of Mercy
  • Answering the Call to Mercy (shared session with Vision conference) 
  • God’s Mercy Endures Forever
  • Mercy in the Biblical Tradition
  • Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God
  • Be Merciful; Become Merciful
  • Practicing Mercy (shared session with Vision conference)
  • Proclaiming Mercy (in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services)

These explorations of the Call to Mercy invites us into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in salvation history and in our own lives.

God’s Mercy

unnamedGod’s mercy is revealed from the first moments of creation, establishing the covenant with Abraham, leading the Israelites out of Egypt, and through the time of kings and prophets. As humanity struggles with sin, God listens intently to our cries and draws near, creating new space for life and blessing.

For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer…. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you (Isaiah 54:7-8,10).

This enduring love is revealed in its fullness in the incarnation of Christ. Throughout his public ministry, Jesus not only proclaims his Father’s mercy but also lives out this mercy in his acts of compassion and healing “for the least of these” (Matt 25:40). Yet it is on the cross where he most fully embodies God’s salvific will for all. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

In St. John Paul II’s encyclical Dives in Misericordia (1980), he writes that believing in the crucified Son “means believing that love is present in the world and that this love is more powerful than any kind of evil in which individuals, humanity, or the world are involved. Believing in this love means believing in mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 7).

The Gift of Mercy

The gift of God’s mercy is bestowed on each of us in the Holy Spirit. The Christian life is the story of our reception of mercy through a journey of trusting in God, choosing to accept God’s mercy, and a continual process of conversion – drawing ever closer to the source. In the words of the psalmist:

A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.

Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit.

Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit. (Psalm 51:12-14).

God is at work within us, capacitating us to receive the gift of mercy through the work of the Holy Spirit. As Pope Francis writes, “The assistance we ask for is already the first step of God’s mercy toward us. He comes to assist us in our weakness. And his help consists in helping us accept his presence and closeness to us” (Misericordiae Vultus, 14). In the Spirit, we choose to embrace mercy, to embrace the reality of love because mercy has first been shown to us.

The Practice of Mercy

Our embrace of mercy compels us to practice mercy. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). It is through the concrete acts – the corporal and spiritual works of mercy – that we demonstrate to others the mercy we have received.

The Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the name, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy: counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead. (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).

Developing the habits and practices of mercy requires us to move beyond preoccupation with ourselves, and to cultivate attentiveness and sensitivity to the concrete physical and spiritual needs of others we encounter. This conversion of heart becomes enfleshed in our participation in the school of mercy in response to the needs of the world. It is through the practice of mercy that we become merciful.

The Proclamation of Mercy

Our lives of merciful love give witness to God’s mercy in concrete acts that offer hope in the midst of suffering and death. As disciples, we are called to proclaim with our lives the gift of God’s mercy. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7). As campus and youth ministers we also carry a responsibility to foster the practice and proclamation of mercy with the youth we serve. As Pope Francis proclaims:

“mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers” (Misericordiae Vultus, 10).

Our ministry with young people calls us to intentionally form others to receive, practice and become mercy. Our formation efforts with young people thus focus on cultivating their awareness of the gift of God’s mercy, attentiveness to the needs of the world, and responsiveness through habits and practices of mercy. Our speech and acts reflect our lives of praise.

We offer praise to God as we embrace our Eucharistic vocation to respond to the mercy of God by becoming mercy ourselves. When we cry “Kyrie Eleison,” we proclaim the truth of our need for mercy as we participate in acts of mercy for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Drawing near to the source of mercy in the Eucharist, “when we eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Cor 11:26) we cultivate our capacity for self-gift, to “love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Our proclamation of God’s mercy with our lives is prophetic. In the midst of poverty and suffering, we respond with concrete acts of love while also holding fast to eschatological hope where the fullness of mercy and justice will be realized.

Mercy & Notre Dame Vision 2016

We, the staff of Notre Dame Vision, in preparing for Vision 2016: Answering the Call to Mercy, enter into a contemplation of the movements of mercy in our own lives and in the programing we develop for our undergraduate Mentors, the high school students, and our campus and youth ministry partners.

We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness (Misericordiae Vultus, 2).

We invite you to join with us in this call to contemplate, receive, practice and proclaim mercy in the year ahead and to gather together for Notre Dame Vision CYM next summer. May our lives and our ministry give witness to mercy we receive as we proclaim “Kyrie Eleison.”

Visit our website to learn more about Notre Dame Vision and register for our programs.