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Marvin Gaye and Pope Francis. Mercy, mercy me.

I am a person who relates to the world through music – everything that happens reminds me of a song. Which then lives in my head until the next one drills in. When Pope Francis swung open the Holy Door of the Vatican this week to usher in The Year of Mercy, I went back to my junior year of high school and the great Marvin Gaye.

A song that could have been written this moment. Don’t know it? Listen here:

At a time when American politics are dominated by irrational fears and radical notions of building fences and closing doors and borders, Pope Francis is leading us in a different conversation, declaring a Jubilee Year of extraordinary grace:

We have to put mercy before judgment, and in any event God’s judgment will always be in the light of (God’s) mercy. In passing through the Holy Door, then, may we feel that we ourselves are part of this mystery of love. Let us set aside all fear and dread, for these do not befit men and women who are loved. Instead, let us experience the joy of encountering that grace which transforms all things.

On the night that the Pope preached this homily, St. Peter’s was awash with a magnificent art installation of projected images of the planet and of wild animals, Illuminating our Common Home, an extraordinary extension of mercy to the planet and to creation, a passion of this pope. See the images here (the projection starts 10 minutes in and you can fast forward past the crowd scenes if you like)

I am not naïve about this pope, and I pray that he opens himself to women’s ordination and to inclusion of all people and all families. And … I’ve learned to celebrate the small and large victories when they come.

On this day, which is the anniversary of Thomas Merton’s death, his “saint’s day,” I’m reminded that Merton’s writing was full of references to mercy: to mercy as revelation, as epiphany, as transformative direct experience of God. And that we are called to acts of mercy – caring for the homeless, the dying, the sick; welcoming strangers and refugees; practicing peace and nonviolence; protecting our air and water. It’s telling that Pope Francis spoke of Merton in his visit here earlier this year – I feel Merton’s teachings and writings informing this moment of mercy which the pope has proclaimed.

Has the pope heard Marvin Gaye? I like to think so. May we all have heads and hearts filled with mercy as we move through this holy season, and may we find the grace to extend mercy to all of creation.

Christina Honchell is the Parish Administrator at All Saints Church, Pasadena.

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