Anyone who has heard me preach over an extended period of time knows I have a fascination with etymology — the history of words, or their translations to and from other languages.
The origins of language teach us a history of thought, ideas and feelings which, regardless of how a word’s use might change over time, should inform us of the depth of meaning in what we say, what we proclaim, what we pray.
With the confluence this week of the completion of the Jubilee Year of Mercy, and our celebration of the American holiday of Thanksgiving, I have been thinking about the correlation between “mercy” and “thanks” — or at least the confluence they should have in our spiritual lives.
You don’t have to know much in the way of foreign languages to know that the French word for “thank-you” is “merci.” Not so coincidentally, the French word for “mercy” is (surprise, surprise) “merci.”
In English, the word thanks came to us from a German root, which essentially meant to think, or thinking. Maybe we should be reminded of the sentiment “thinking of you.” In this way, our thanks is a reflection of our connections in mind, heart and spirit to others.
And then, just as in the French, mercy comes to us from a Latin word for wages or value. So, thanks to the French, both thanks and mercy remind us of the sentiment that “you are valuable to me.” Now, throw in the other Romance languages like Spanish and Italian, and thanks becomes about appreciating graces and blessings, and mercy is a gift from the heart.
So, what might be the best way summarize this confluence of a Year of Mercy and Thanksgiving? One simple thought is that from the very root of what each celebration means, it can be said that you cannot have one without the other.
More practically, we should not understand either one as being primarily about things, processes or systems. At their core, true mercy and sincere thanks are about connections from our heart, to the hearts of others. Most importantly, to the heart of Christ.
Last weekend, as the Jubilee Year of Mercy came to a close, as Holy Doors throughout the archdiocese and throughout the world were closed, our prayers as parishes called on us to consider a year of mercies received and of mercies shown.
A year during which we gave special note of the value given our lives, given to our hearts, by others — in their acts of kindness, generosity, dignity and justice. A year during which we gave value to the lives and hearts of others by our own acts of kindness, generosity, dignity and justice.
With this list flowing from our reflections about the meaning of mercy, we prove the truth that things, processes, nor systems be seen as the core of true mercy. (Although, they may well be effected by a merciful life.)
Also from these reflections we can glean our list of things for which to show thanks on Thanksgiving Day. If the Year of Mercy was spiritually fruitful for you, I sincerely believe Thanksgiving will be all the more spiritual for you.
This year, in a special way, I invite you to reflect and prayerfully offer thanks for all to whom you have shown mercy, for through them you have drawn closer to Christ and become more Christ-like. Equally, offer thanks for all who have shown you mercy, for from them you have received an incarnate proof of God’s love for you.
Mercy and thanks come together when there is a connection made from our heart to the heart of another. Mercy and thanks become spiritually transforming when we realize and appreciate that all of these things flow from the heart of Jesus Christ pouring itself into our world.
While it is thought a secular holiday, I hope all people of faith have a prayerful celebration of Thanksgiving Day. Recalling that Eucharist itself means thanksgiving, I hope every Catholic might start the celebration with Mass at their parish.
Thus, with mercy in our hearts, and thanks on our lips, let us forever be heralds of hope!