Starting on Tuesday 8 December, the feast of the Immaculate Conception and the 50th anniversary of the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis has called for a “Holy Year Of Mercy.”

I am not entirely clear about some of the ecclesiastical, theological, and  moral intricacies of the Pope’s gesture which can be examined here:

But I do know that the Pope’s declaration of a “Holy Year Of Mercy” is being viewed as a call for a

revolution of tenderness.”

“Tenderness” is not a quality to which the world generally aspires. “Tenderness” can sound like weakness. We fear that the person whoPope Francis practices “tenderness” is likely to be trampled in the stampede of life. It is hard to imagine how to navigate   with “tenderness” through the harshness that so often characterizes the ways of the world.

But, Pope Francis sees tenderness not as weakness but as the place from which

justice and all the rest derives.

Tenderness is not weakness. Tenderness is our true and deepest nature. Tenderness opens us to that presence of love that in Christian tradition we see embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.

There was nothing weak about Jesus. He was able, when necessary, to take decisive, even forceful action because he acted always from the deep inner well-spring of light and life that is our true nature.

To participate in a “revolution of tenderness” requires the faith that there is a deeper and stronger stream of Life at the core of our being that can be trusted and that desires to guide our lives.

Jesus said,

My sheep hear my voice. (John 10:27)

The voice of the Shepherd speaks with gentleness and mercy. It is the nature of God to be merciful. James says,

the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:11)

When Jesus wanted to draw a picture of God, he chose the image of a tender father who, saw his errant son returning from his wanderings and,

while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.(Luke 15:20)

The important piece of information here is that the father “ran” to his son, “while he was still far off.” The father did not wait for any expression of remorse. He did not need a little speech from his son seeking forgiveness. The son was not required to acknowledge his foolishness. The welcome extended to the son was motivated, not by the son’s behaviour, but by the father’s mercy.

Mercy cannot be earned. It is never deserved. Mercy is always free. It originates in the heart of the merciful. It is not driven by the righteousness of the recipient.

But, mercy does not leave us unchanged. Mercy that is truly received will manifest in mercy given.

Jesus challenged us to see that, as we experience the mercy of God, we will naturally express that compassion that is our true nature as children created in the image of compassion.

Jesus said,

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

A “Holy Year of Mercy” is a year in which we recognize that we are the recipients of grace. It is a year in which we respond to the mercy we receive by living in relationship to the world with greater gentleness and compassion.

In the current cultural climate the Pope’s call to mercy could not be more timely.