The Creativity of Mercy
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 6)
“The friars are to show their willingness for conversion by joyfully placing themselves at the service of the poor, the marginalized, and the excluded, following the example of St. Francis, who received the grace to begin to do penance by showing mercy to lepers”.
You probably recall the surprises that came with the recent pandemic: the churches being closed for health security, no possibility of confession, the cancellation of adoration and pastoral meetings. It was as if the whole world was paralyzed with fear. I met with our friars, who at that time were visiting the sick in hospitals and care centers, and asked: “Aren’t you afraid?” They answered with a sense of humor: “We are afraid, but fortunately we believe in the life of the virus-after.”
History has a tendency to repeat itself. The world has always worried about the dangers of the past, present and future.
However, these concerns give us an opportunity to look within ourselves and learn the truth about who we are, to understand the state of our spirit, to discern what is important to us, what we fear, and what we should change.
Perhaps St. Francis of Assisi can help us in this self-reflection. In his Rule, he offers us an ideal way of way of observing the Gospel and following Jesus Christ. Our Founder experienced the Lord as He who made himself poor for us. Francis’ encounters with the impoverished, the suffering and the lepers were a continuation of his relationship with the Lord. Francis wanted to follow the Lord’s path, so he gave away all he had and entrusted himself to God’s providence. For him, this was not a one-time act, but a way of living that required continuity. He introduced this way of living into the life of the Friars Minor as an initiation into being in community: “Let the ministers speak to them the words of the holy Gospel that they go and sell all they have and take care to give it to the poor”.
Our entire religious formation is a continuous return to this experience: giving one’s assets to the poor. To the poor, to those who are lacking, we give ourselves, our time, our effort, our work, our prayer and even material things. We don’t do it to feed our egos or to make ourselves feel good, important, or necessary. We do it to be close to God and we ask him to have mercy on us because we want to be saved. When we do acts of mercy, our being and our abilities are made instruments in God’s hands. This seems to be the essence of our Franciscan way of life.
What can hinder our effectiveness in both pastoral and charitable ministry are the expectations that other people have of us. People expect us to be social and spiritual leaders, figures who can remedy all forms of poverty and lead everyone to God. Therefore, it’s easy to lose our way; we want to meet expectations, but when there is a shortage of money, resources, time or energy, we may quickly get burned out. At the same time, we are mindful that the poor and needy have always been with us and always will be. In our ministries, we may be able to help a few people but we cannot eradicate the problem of poverty, illness, loneliness, exclusion, etc. Over the centuries, neither noble political systems nor multitudes of social organizations have managed to do this.
However, there is a difference between offering mercy and acting within the framework of a support system for the poor. I remember a conversation with a certain director of a drug center. He claimed that his patients were corrupted by the help they got from the friaries. “Your help is harmful!” he said. “Junkies and alcoholics get food from you, they have a place to wash, they get the clothes they need and sometimes even money, so they are satisfied with this help and that’s why they don’t want to treat their addiction. The homeless do not feel the need to look for work and change their lives because they get everything they need from you.” It is a difficult thing to solve, because in an organized care system it is often necessary to evaluate, to look at the situation in a systemic, far-sighted way. We must constantly ask ourselves how we can help without hurting or corrupting people.
Mercy, on the other hand, is a little different. Mercy does not expect improvement, it makes no demands, it is unconditional. It also requires creativity on the part of the minister to be sensitive, protective and persevering in service, and to make sure that the assistance that is provided does not humiliate anyone. Mercy is the hand of God; it is letting Him embrace us. We use His gifts both for the living and the dead; for our brothers and sisters in community and for those He sends our way.
I reflect on myself and ask: What is the nature of my giving? To whom do I give? Whom do I omit? Do I obtain mercy for others and myself when I give? What blocks me in this? When do I not feel like giving? Or do I fear something or someone? In answering, I pray: “Eternal Father…have mercy on us and on the whole world”.
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
Delegate General for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Rome 2019, art. 50 §2.
 Later Rule II, 5 FF 77.
 Cf. John Paul II, Novo millennio ineunte, no. 50; Andrzej Zając, OFM Conv., Święty Franciszek, Cracow 2004, pp. 78-80.
 Chaplet of Divine Mercy