Today, as the world is fast moving towards its own suicide “Be merciful” becomes not only a message but also a radical call. Slogans like “be merciful like the Father”, show kindness, be loving, handle with care, have goodness, be gentle, care front and not confront etc… we have heard during this year of Mercy. The growing violence, intolerance, discrimination, impatient, class-caste struggle, poverty, etc cause wounds in the heart and mind of peoples. The world today is marred by division, ill-treatment, child abuse, child labour and child trafficking. Only a compassionate heart, loving words, kind gestures and merciful acts can heal these wounds. As we know kind words never hurt the tongue. A little compassion can make a big difference in someone’s life. Now is the time! Now is the hour to be compassionate!
We know for sure God is merciful. The concept of a merciful God is very much present in different religions. It has different meanings like benevolence, forgiveness, kindness, compassion, pity, love, grace, concern, gentleness, tenderness etc. In Islam Allah is referred to as al-Rahman –“The most merciful” which means tenderness and benevolence and al-Rahim which means compassionate. Moreover alms giving is practiced as a form of mercy during the holy month of Ramzan. In Judaism, Yahweh is characterized by mercy (Ex32, 34 & Psl 117). In Jainism the concept of “Karuna” refers to compassion. Buddhism holds maître meaning, loving kindness, close to its heart. In Hinduism Dharma includes compassion and mercy. The virtue of Aahimsa, daye, kruna, have been held high by Hindu Sages and Spiritual gurus. A philosopher and a social reformer once said that “kindness is the base of all the religions” (daye ye dharmada mulavayya). In Christianity, God is shown to be merciful, patient, loving, forgiving etc. Jesus is the face of Father’s mercy. The parable of the prodigal son stands as a true example of God as a merciful Father (Lk 15: 11-32). St. Thomas Aquinas states that mercy is the greatest attribute of God, which is witnessed in His creation. The creation is a merciful act of God. Pope St. John Paul II affirmed this in his encyclical Rich in Mercy (Dives in Misericordiae). Through his apostolic bull “The face of Mercy” (Vultus Misericordiae), Pope Francis declared this year as the Year of Mercy. Hence this year is dedicated to re-discover and relive the mercy of God in one’s life and graciously extend the same to others.
I have been thinking on how we can be more merciful towards the children. As a teacher, mentor, guide, father, mother, brother, sister and as a religious can we be more loving, merciful, kind, forgiving and understanding? As I mull over this thought, the imagery of a potter and the clay comes alive in my mind. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand” (Jer 18: 1-12). I compare the clay, the pot, to children and the potter to teachers. We are called to show mercy, concern, care and kindness to all the children, each one according to his or her need.
First of all, the condition of the clay: The children are like the clay in the hands of the potter. The quality of clay is important. Here the potter must be aware of the condition of the clay. It matters a lot. It has to be molded well. What I am made of, what I bring to this world, my physique, mental abilities, temperament do matter. I take utmost care to direct all my energy towards making the pot look good and satisfactory. The same is also applied to children. Just as the clay in the potter’s hands children are in the hands of a teacher. As teachers, we sometimes have to be stern, strict but what really make a child into a good human being is not the STICK but the LOVE and Mercy we show unto them.
Secondly unpredictability: The unpredictability is part of the process of making a pot. The circumstances, temperaments, weather conditions are variables which need to be taken account of. Sometimes we can’t understand the behavioral patterns of children. We fail to correct them. We misjudge and punish them. This may not work in these times. In situations like this, we need to adopt new ys for better results and outcome. We need to read the signs of the time and show interest, in making children get predictable results. This is possible only through loving and kind words.
Thirdly carefulness: Carefulness is one of the necessary conditions to shape a pot. Handling clay with both the hands is a tedious job. Applying unwanted pressure can deform the pot. Children require lot of care, concern, appreciation and gentle corrections. Forming the lives of children is an unwanted job. Carefulness in handling children at their initial stages of learning does have a long term effect. Children are fragile so handle with care. They are capable of scaring their own parents, teachers etc. Hence we need to be good, see good and do good while shaping our children. The carefulness in shaping takes place through compassion, forgiveness, kindness, love, mercy, patients and understanding.
Fourthly the internal and external forces: There are two sets of opposing forces in making a beautiful pot. These are the internal and external forces. The external forces which shape our lives are the family, friends, community, teachers, society etc., in which we live. The internal forces are the beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, faith which form our worldview. Invariably, children are affected by these forces. When we find children who are psychologically imbalanced and when there is no proper upbringing and nurturing, our approach should be one of showing mercy, love and kindness. That really can bring healing to children and make them to grow happily.
Finally, if we work out carefully according to the above four points we will surely succeed in practicing mercy. It is an invitation to each one of us to prayerfully discern and purposefully decide to be merciful towards children. As we receive and experience the mercy of God we are also called to practice mercy, especially to the little ones. Mercy is not unilateral. It’s always bilateral. One who shows mercy is also a beneficiary. It is reciprocal in its very nature and content. If this is absent our actions just remain empty of love and the vicious circle continues as it was in the beginning, now and forever. During this year of mercy let us earnestly strive to be merciful towards little ones as we meet them in our schools, parishes, social work centers, bus stands, railway stations, streets, hospitals and orphanages. We know very often children do not do home work, do not listen, fight among themselves, do not learn and show interest, give back answers so on and so forth. These cycles need to be stopped at some point before they turn into uncontrollable conflicts. Among the means available the one which can bring a lasting effect seems to be MERCY. For mercy alone can change us and others.
Fr. Francis Pinto SJ