Yesterday, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of Mercy. Today I ask myself, what does this mean for me? What does mercy mean in my life?

A few months ago I moved to the State of Washington and had to register an 18-year-old car. The registration process included a mandatory smog test of the vehicle. Not surprisingly, the car failed the first test. After expensive repairs, it failed the second test, and at this point I was starting to feel that the whole process would be futile, until the smog-test station official said, “no problem, just go over to that office with your repair receipt, and the manager will give you a waiver.” I could not believe it; I thought to myself: a waiver, while the car still emits smog above the legal limit? As I drove away with my waiver, with confidence the car could now be registered, it felt like mercy; it felt good.

Though mercy felt good to receive, how often I have been slow to give mercy to others, especially to those whose mannerisms rub me the wrong way. This reluctance reminds me that Our Lord said, “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.” (Lk 6:38). Such stinginess with mercy, then, would result in a small measure of mercy for me—a person who is in great need of abundant mercy!

For me, the Pope’s inauguration of a Year of Mercy means mercy should be foremost in my mind this coming year. For one year I should resolve to study mercy, to read what Scripture and the great spiritual writers have to say about mercy, to learn all I can about this virtue, and to put it into practice.

One year from now will be December 7th, the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a day that would live in infamy, in the words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. What a fitting day to test how much I have forgiven, for forgiveness is a first cousin of mercy.

Surely there will be articles written, conferences given, and retreats held throughout this coming year—all for the purpose of helping us to be more merciful. Surely, the Lord will give me many opportunities to practice the skill, art and virtue of mercy; may He also grant me the fortitude to pass these tests, and mercy when I fail!

Br. James