Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Holy Year of Mercy, and mercy, he says in his new book, is about “[going] outside and [looking] for people where they live, where they suffer, and where they hope.” That is what Jesus does in the Gospels: he goes forth and gives mercy.
But mercy must be a gateway to justice. Justice is what brings joy, because it is a sign of rightness, of right-doing. Joy is what gives us life, because its opposite is suffering. Joy marks the end of suffering. Injustice, however, is threaded throughout American life. It only takes a cursory glance at the headlines to see this, and in this particular moment, justice is difficult to find for the many victims of violence in our society, who are disproportionately people of color.
“Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will not believe,” Jesus tells the crowds. Today’s signs and wonders might look like justice for victims, true equality in our schools and workplaces: things that should have been part of this nation since its founding. It is the job of each of us to give mercy. But even more so, it is our job to see that justice is done. Leaders turn away, and institutions fail. What remains are our vulnerable selves. But in the depths of that vulnerability, we find is one another. We work for justice. And that is when joy begins.
1. How can we be present to the vulnerability of victims of injustice?
2. How can we bring about the “signs and wonders” of our own time?
Kaya Oakes is the author of four books. She teaches nonfiction writing at UC Berkeley and her essays and journalism have appeared in America, Commonweal, Slate, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Sojourners, and many other places.