I was in the confessional, feeling particularly bad about my list of the usual sins, when a priest gave me one simple prayer for a penance. I wanted to say, “But wait, I have been doing the same things over and over and over again. Didn’t you just hear all the things for which I deserve a just punishment?

And then it struck me: This was mercy.

And I thought about my list of sins, for which I was being absolved, and saw where I lacked to show mercy even in places where mercy was deserved.

Ever since the Year of Mercy began, I have been trying to figure out how this mercy applies in my life. So I have been praying to be more merciful, especially in my family life. I have a wonderful husband and four children, ages 7 and under. There are so many opportunities to show mercy in my day-to-day life, if I could just get over my flaws.

In Scripture, in the Old and New Testament, God offers his people chances to be faithful to him again and again. He tells them what will be for their good and what will make them prosper. And after he tells them what they should do, he tells them that they won’t actually do it. He knows that they will turn away. He knows that they will hurt him. He knows that they will disobey his command. And he knows that, because of it, they will suffer.

The same thing happens when Jesus talks to his disciples. Take Peter, James and John in the Garden of Gethsemane, for example. Jesus asks them to stay awake and pray, knowing it will be better for them to have been praying. They make a small effort and fall asleep. When the crowd comes to take Jesus away, they don’t know what to do. They watch him tried, carry his cross and die. But when he rises, he shows them mercy.

I look at myself. I know what the right thing to do is. I know what is good to do, and by the grace of God, I am able to do good, fairly often. But I also fail to do the good. I fall into my old habitual sins, and I hurt God, I hurt my husband, and I hurt my children.

Then I go to my habitual day of confession, say my habitual sins and receive the forgiveness and mercy that God so wants to give me. I come out of the confessional determined to change and determined to be more merciful.

I realize that most of my sins are a result of failing to show mercy. My children do that thing I have asked them not to do, that I know that they will do again and again anyway, and instead of showing them mercy and kindness, I show them my version of justice. I do the same thing in my mind as I criticize my fellow humans in their actions and words. I do the same thing to my husband, whom I am supposed to help get to heaven. And it is not that I don’t forgive them for their failings eventually — it is that, in the moment, I forget what it is to show mercy.

I am going to pray that this Year of Mercy I will be given the grace of being quick to show mercy: that I will let mercy precede justice in my daily life; that I will learn from the mercy that God shows me to allow mercy into my heart and my daily life and daily interactions. I pray that I will really learn how to live a merciful life.

Susanna Spencer writes from

St. Paul, Minnesota.