Sarah Reinhard is a Catholic wife, mom, writer, editor, marketing professional, and coffee drinker. You’re just as likely to find her hiding out back with a book as you are to discover her playing in the yard with a few farm animals (or wait — are those her kids?) She is the author of many books, the most recent of which she co-edited with Lisa Hendey: The Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion: A Book of Daily Reflections. She blogs at SnoringScholar.com and writes online regularly at CatholicMom.com and Integrated Catholic Life. Reinhard holds a master’s degree in marketing and communications and has worked for many years in corporate and nonprofit organizations. She lives in central Ohio with her husband and children.
I knew Beautiful Mercy would be a quick read.
I mean, that’s practically a given when you have a book published by Dynamic Catholic.
I salute Kelly for his work: in the last few years, he has made books available to Catholics who need to learn more about their faith and might not know where to turn…people who may be intimidated by the doorstop size of the Catechism and face a slew of objections for seeking answers in other ways.
Kelly has made Catholicism accessible, it’s true.
But…and I say this as a total jerk and a big fat nerd…his books have never really been my thing. Oh, I read the first couple he released and I spent a chunk of time doing a project where I listened to nearly all of his talks and read or skimmed most of his early books.
He’s good. I had just had enough.
I was there. Excited, on fire, learning.
I moved right along.
So when the opportunity came to read Beautiful Mercy, billed on the front cover as “the perfect companion to the Year of Mercy,” I was anything but excited.
My reading time has been cut in half because of other obligations, and I have a stack of books I really want to read.
What I’m saying is that I did a lot of sucking it up to pick this book up.
And God used it as a big ole two-by-four to hit me across the head.
This book might be some of the best writing and reading I’ve done on the subject of mercy. Ever.
Kelly writes, in the prelude,
It’s simple, but imagine how the world would be different if everyone practiced just one work of mercy each day. How would the world be different if these works of mercy defined the way we live our lives? There is genius in Catholicism, but sadly it is little known and practiced.
Sometimes the best way to think about life is to reflect upon death. When I think about my life and how I have offended God, all the opportunities I have had to love that I have turned my back on, how little I have done with the gifts he has given me, I hope he is merciful. When I reflect on my faults and failings, my mistakes and sins, my pride and arrogance, I hope he is merciful.
I believe he is.
What follows is a set of 14 chapters, one for each of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The collection of authors in this book is phenomenal: I’m sure Kelly didn’t actually call Pope Francis, but I can’t help but love that Pope Francis’ words are the introduction to the book:
As we can see in Sacred Scripture, mercy is a key word that indicates God’s action towards us. He does not limit himself to merely affirming his love, but makes it visible and tangible. Love, after all, can never be just an abstraction. By its very nature, it indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviors that are shown in daily living. The mercy of God is his loving concern for each one of us. He feels responsible; that is, he desires our wellbeing and he wants to see us happy, full of joy, and peaceful. This is the path which the merciful love of Christians must also travel.
Most of the chapters feature two essays, and they are practical suggestions. They are also, though, a challenge. They are reflective considerations of what the works of mercy, in both the corporal and spiritual aspects, mean for each of us as both individuals and as parts of the larger Body of Christ.
For example, consider Lisa Hendey’s reflection on giving drink to the thirsty: she took readers with her to Tanzania, painting a picture of the young girls carrying huge water jugs on their heads. She then zoomed back to her own California home, where a drought had made her more aware of water. Yet, she mentions, it’s more than just about water, isn’t it?
But let us also remember that the “thirsty” often have needs that will be met more often by words and deeds than by water. I don’t have to travel halfway around the world to find folks who thirst. They are all around me, waiting for me to bear relief to them just as Neema bore that bucket of water.
The thirsty are the working poor of my own community who labor in farm fields to put food on their tables. My elderly neighbor thirsts for someone to sit with her and to simply listen. A friend who single-parents a child with special needs thirsts for compassion, understanding, and welcome. And often, my own family thirsts for my care and attention when I let my daily busyness stand in the way of lovingly fulfilling my vocation as wife and mother.
I was equally struck by Sarah Swafford’s reflection on instructing the ignorant. She explains that “ignorant” doesn’t mean “stupid,” but rather, “unlearned,” “unknown,” or even “unaware.” She makes a distinction that this isn’t about pushing our faith on other people, but instead trusting the Holy Spirit to guide us.
In light of trying to dig deeper into this work of mercy, instruct the ignorant, I think it would be beneficial to distinguish between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is very important; we should have the facts and information we need to communicate the brilliant truths of our Catholic faith. But someone may have all the factual knowledge in the world⏤he or she may even be a “walking Catechism”—yet unless we approach this work of mercy with an eye to imparting wisdom, we may very well miss the mark.k
It is wisdom and faith that take knowledge and seamlessly weave it through the threads of time, history, culture, and personal experience in order to help answer life’s biggest questions: “Who am I?” “What am I living for?” and “Whom am I living for?” Wisdom and faith are the anchors of human life, giving us meaning and purpose even amid the attacks of relativism, utilitarianism, and the culture of death. Wisdom and faith show us that life has a plot, a goal, and living out this journey leads to happiness, peace, and joy—both in this life and in the next.
This book is full of advice, true, but it’s also full of fire: I found myself considering that maybe my Year of Mercy wouldn’t be a total waste after all. Maybe even in the midst of how crazy my life is, I can make a few small changes that will have a big impact eternally.
In Beautiful Mercy, I found hope, and I also found an understanding of mercy I haven’t gained anywhere else. Mercy has always seemed to be a nice idea, a good theory, and completely foreign.
God has it, sure.
But…what does it mean? How do I share it? Why do I need it?
This collection was a gift to me, straight from heaven. It seared itself into my mind, and I can’t help but feel closer to God as a result of reading it.
I also can’t help but be better motivated to move forward through my Christian journey.
As Dr. Scott Hahn wrote in the conclusion:
The crisis of the Church is not reducible to the lack of good catechists, liturgies, theologians, and so forth. It’s a crisis of saints. But it’s a crisis our Father can be trusted to handle, especially if we allow him to keep his promises to us.
Let us be saints, indeed, and use what’s left of this Year of Mercy to run closer to that goal!