Husband & Wife Articles


Merciful Family

The Year of Mercy must begin in the home

By Russell Brewer

One day at work I received a call from my wife: “I just caught our eldest son with a permanent marker and he drew on our bedroom wall!”

While not altogether astonished that this could happen in a house with four small boys, I was a little disappointed in my son. Yet in that moment, my primary concern was keeping my wife sane and reassuring her that we would handle the issue together and bring justice to the situation. Reflecting now on the event in the context of the Year of Mercy, declared by Pope Francis, it is appropriate to look at the situation in light of our call as parents to exercise not only justice but also mercy.

As with any other virtue, the family is the root of education in mercy. The family is where we learn how to be fully human as we absorb how to interact, how to learn and how to behave from our parents and other family members. Blessed Paul VI wrote in his letter on Christian education, “The first school of the social virtues that every society needs… is through the family that they [children] are gradually led to a companionship with their fellowmen and with the people of God” (Gravissimum Educationis, 3).

The best way to educate a child in the virtues is through love manifested in mercy. In St. John Paul II’s memorable phrase, mercy is “love’s second name” (Dives in Misericordia, 7). In a world where sin is prevalent, mercy is the way love is revealed to man. We first learn mercy through receiving forgiveness for our sins and also practicing it in forgiving others. But in the family, love runs even deeper. We are loved before we are even born by the coming together of two complementary persons who in the act of love, and through the grace of God, conceive a child. This is a unique aspect of love that the family offers society. The family can put the virtues of love and mercy in their proper perspective by actions, examples and instructions that lead children, and by extension society, to a communion with the people of God.

Love is communicated by deeds and is taught to children through the actions of their parents. A child who throws a tantrum, makes a mess, picks on siblings, or does anything that would seem to violate the rights of others must be corrected, as justice requires. However, the fulfillment of justice comes through mercy. When my child drew on the wall, he needed to be corrected. First, we confiscated the markers and then reiterated the rules. At the same time we knew our son could not completely restore the situation since he drew in a permanent marker that was not easy to remove. He showed true remorse when he saw that he had done damage that could not be fully erased, and we used the occasion to point out that we all are in a similar situation before God. Full and complete justice can only be restored by the cross, on which Jesus redeemed us from our sins and restored mankind to communion with God – something we could never do on our own. Since we have been redeemed, we are sent to share that love, called mercy, with those who have sinned against us. Thus, in disciplining our child we had to end in mercy. Even after remorse was shown and an apology offered and accepted, he drew a crucifix as a clear reminder that that his error was forgiven and he is still loved.

A lesson was learned, justice restored, and the power of mercy revealed.

In this Year of Mercy, it is vital to reflect upon our sinfulness and how God has bestowed his love on us through mercy. In this reflection from the cross we should be led to an even greater desire to share this mercy with those whom we have hurt, and those who have hurt us. There is no better place to start the habit of mercy than in the family. Here is where we can reveal God’s love to those who are closest to us, our spouse and children. Where a stain of sin may leave its mark (in this case a permanent marker), God’s mercy still abounds.

Russell Brewer lives in St. Louis with his wife, Rachelle, and their soon-to-be five boys: Matthew, 5: Joseph, 4; Michael, 2; Karl, 1; and Louis, due date March 31, 2016. He is a manager of business analytics at a transportation company.