By Eric Garris, Seminarian for the Diocese of Cleveland
Recently, Pope Francis released a new book entitled “The Name of God is Mercy” (which I highly recommend!) as part of his desire for the Church to celebrate this Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. In this interview the pope is asked the simple question, “What is mercy for you?” Although the question itself was quite simple, the response given by the Holy Father was incredibly profound when he stated, “Mercy is the divine attitude which embraces, it is God giving himself to us, accepting us, and bowing to forgive […] mercy is God’s identity card.” I sat with this line and let God speak to my heart as I prayerfully reflected on the words of Pope Francis. I thought of how many times we as a Church cry out from the depths of our hearts asking for God to be merciful towards us; we repeatedly cry out as a Church community within the liturgy “Lord have mercy,” we chant Psalms in which we entreat God for mercy, and we pray in the silence of our hearts, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” These prayers for mercy vocalize our hearts’ desire to have God embrace us—embrace us in the midst of our brokenness, our sinfulness and our pains.
And while we certainly experience God’s mercy within the liturgy, personal prayer and the Sacraments/Holy Mysteries, I also believe that one of most profound ways that we experience the mercy of God is in others, in particular those who have experienced mercy in a profound way in their own lives. As I read the line about God’s mercy being the divine attitude which embraces, I also thought of the people, the places and the groups/communities that have embraced me, have been merciful to me, and have taught me how to love and how to be merciful. The women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery have been incredibly merciful toward me; they have embraced me, they have taught me how to love, they have taught me how to be merciful, but most especially, they have allowed for me to encounter the mercy of God.
I have experienced mercy and have been embraced by the women of the community, and for this I give thanks to God. Whether it be simply heading over to celebrate and pray Vespers with them, sitting around over coffee and sharing stories and laughs, enjoying a meal with them, or whatever it may be, I have indeed been embraced by these women. But their embrace and their showing of mercy is not simply in what they have done for me, but in the very nature of who they are. Just as mercy is “God’s identity card,” mercy is the identity of the women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery. The fruit of their spousal relationship with Christ and Christ’s Church is the love and mercy that they exude, and this love and mercy is infectious! So too I have been able to experience the mercy of God through the monastery—in the poustinia, in the communal prayer and liturgy, and in the others whom I have been blessed to encounter through my association and friendship with the nuns.
It is my prayer that the women of Christ the Bridegroom Monastery may continue to be icons of mercy, sharing with the world the love which is born between them and their Bridegroom, Christ Himself.