Mercies are better in the plural

Let’s not risk a mercy shortage. Especially in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I vote that we multiply the word and amplify its meaning so as to immerse ourselves in it.
As I pondered the word one day, I looked it up in the index of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Would you believe the book mentions mercy only twice? At least that was the number of entries in the index of my admittedly old edition of the 1994 catechism. Fortunately, the index of the online edition has been updated to point to 12 references.
Fortunate because it’s a more accurate reflection of the catechism’s contents–and better because this update may reflect the fact that, thanks to St. Pope John Paul II, St. Faustina, Pope Francis, and others, the Church over time has become more mercy-conscious.
Now I recommend just one more improvement in the handling of this beautiful word. My online research also turned up an apparent neglect of the very interesting plural form of the word–namely, mercies. The singular form can often be applied to a single “act of mercy” that we human beings can perform, even as it can refer to a defining character trait of our loving, forgiving God.
I’d like to raise our consciousness of that even more compelling, beautiful word, “mercies.” It seems to me that dictionaries too often suffice it to say this word is simply the plural of mercy. But I think “mercies” can take us into an even richer time of reflection, focusing us on the graces bestowed and actions taken, so consistently and generously, by our Lord in our lives. It evokes a story of supernatural abundance, patience, and loyalty, causing us to be especially thankful.
My favorite use of the word “mercies” is found in that wonderful hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” We sing that, morning after morning after morning, we see new mercies and graces that prove God’s ongoing involvement in our lives–His love as an action word.
My edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church had no index entry for “mercies,” and the online search I used at the USCCB site made no distinctions when I asked for “mercies” instead of “mercy.” Alas, the Bishops’ Bible site did not even use “mercies” in the Lamentations 3:22 passage which served as a basis for “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”
So maybe “mercy” and “mercies” constitute a distinction without a difference. But please keep praying for this year to be a jubilee of multiple mercies–an ongoing, interactive flow of mercies shown by the Lord and by us under the inspiration of the Divine Mercy, and indeed a flow that will continue after this formal year is over. Let’s enjoy that sense of abundance and real encounters in countless lives, a mandate not limited to checklists of specific “acts of mercy.” Rather let’s focus on a compassionate heart which continues beating, breaking, and blessing–acting in love constantly. It’s something we can remember and rediscover alwys … because His mercies endure forever.

A word of apology … sorry, that’s the word

Elton John has sung, “Sorry seems to be the hardest word.” But the word “apology” and its derivative, “apologist,” seem even harder. Believe it or not, today’s feast of St. Justin, Martyr, is what prompts these observations.

The Catholic Encyclopedia describes St. Justin as a Christian apologist. To be a skillful apologist for the Catholic faith is a wonderful thing, and every Catholic should seek knowledge and skills suited to the work of apologia, or defending and explaining one’s faith.

But here’s one of those cases where a marketing firm might have chosen a different word; the common understanding of apology, or apologist, or apologetic, tends to emphasize regret for a mistake, not the search for truth. To the contrary, these days (or anytime), it can be an act of education, courage, and mercy to proclaim and explain Catholic and Christian insights. The Church’s combination of faith and reason can light a candle in the darkness of ignorance or prejudice or purely emotional reactions.

Some folks might want Catholics to be regretful or reluctant when expressing their faithful perspectives in the public square, and sadly there are people in the world today who, like St. Justin, suffer martyrdom when they stand up for their beliefs. Only if we maintain and project the sense of joy and hope that comes from our commitment to truth will the candle stay lit as an invitation to dialogue.

That’s what Peter writes in his epistle: “But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:14-16)

St. Justin, pray for us so that we may unapologetically venture into free and fair conversations, locally and globally, in search of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Apologist may be a hard word, but it can just as easily be a word of invitation as a word of sorry withdrawal.