By Sister Regina Siegfried, ASC

Pope Francis broke centuries of tradition when he opened the cathedral door in Bangui, Central African Republic recently instead of the portal of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to symbolize the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy, which begins tomorrow, Dec. 8.

1430832550293Catholics will want to take notice of any mention of mercy in readings, prayers, and homilies proclaimed throughout the coming year. The prophet Baruch (5:9) assures us that “God is leading Israel in joy by the light of his glory, with his mercy and justice for company.” The quality of mercy never travels alone, but with justice, joy, compassion, and God’s ever-abiding presence.

Advent offers 26 days to contemplate God’s mercy and love for all creation that appear in the person of Jesus, whom Pope Francis describes as “the face of the Father’s mercy.”

Advent days help us be vigilant and alert, not for the busy-ness of the season, but for an unexpected break-through of God’s mercy among us. Being vigilant requires that we’re alert to the signs of the times, aware of those around us who need our care and compassion, and are willing to take time to reflect on the meaning of preparing for Christmas.

If Jesus is the face of the mercy of God, we are the people who now make that mercy alive in our society. We hope for mercy from God and others as we offer mercy to whoever needs our compassion.

Shakespeare penned one of the classic descriptions of mercy in “The Merchant of Venice” when Portia’s monologue rings out in the courtroom:

The quality of mercy is not strained;

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

‘T is mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown:

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God’s

When mercy seasons justice.