Doing mercy within brutal systems

by Mary Ann McGivern

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Mercy: a willingness to enter into the chaos of other people's lives. A friend of mine, Kathy McGinnis here in St. Louis, gave me that definition. She got it from one of the priests in the archdiocese whose name I've forgotten. I found a blog that attributes it to Jesuit Fr. James Keenan.

It's a provocative definition. It doesn't tell us how to respond but simply to be there. Indeed, when we open our hearts to the chaos that other people are experiencing instead of protecting our space, that opening is an act of mercy, no matter what happens next.

The May 19 New York Times ran an article that is, I think, an exemplar of this sort of mercy. A retired office who served in Vietnam, Herbert Donahue, has been arguing that soldiers court-martialed for violent acts in Iraq and Afghanistan did not receive in their sentencing the benefit of recognition of the fog of war. Recently, Donahue has been joined by law students from the University of Chicago. The students take a different tack, that in re-deploying men with brain damage and post-traumatic stress from battle injuries, the Pentagon is culpable.

These advocates for clemency have waded into the chaos of war, war injury, and criminal justice. They consider the convicted soldiers case by case.

The article is a tough read about brutal acts and brutal systems. But the call to mercy shines through it.

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