Mercy at the Heart of Jesus’ Mission: A Review of Mercy in the City

By Timothy Muldoon

I teach in a senior Capstone program at Boston College, a place that annually sends many graduates to volunteer programs around the country and around the world. Happily, I now have a book to recommend to them as they navigate the transition from college to the working world, even as they retain the desire to serve and find ways to cultivate spiritual growth.

Kerry Weber, an editor at the Jesuit weekly magazine America, has written an engaging account of her travails to enact the Corporal Works of Mercy in the midst of her busy life in New York City. Hers is an active faith that does justice, seeking to carry with her some of the passion that led her to volunteer as a member of the Mercy Volunteer Corps on a Navajo reservation after college. In her stories I hear echoes of many students who have similarly served, both in the Mercy Corps and in others such as the Jesuit Volunteer Corps or the Sisters of Saint Joseph Mission Corps. She writes honestly about her abiding desire to do good in the world, while at the same time making a living, dating, and keeping up with normal young adult life. I suspect that many young adults will see themselves in her stories.

What is striking about Weber’s account, though, and which makes me certain to place it in someone’s hands before this academic year is over, is that she is no moral therapeutic deist. She is a thoughtful Catholic, committed to living the gospel of love of neighbor and love of God. The faith she wrestles with is not reducible to social work, nor is it rooted in doctrine hermetically sealed from the experience of suffering people. It is a living faith, illustrated perhaps best by the very way it has helped her to see people—to take, in the words of William McNamara, a “long, loving look at the real.” Describing her willing violation of the unwritten rules of subway riding, she writes,

Once you look people in the eye, it’s harder to forget that they’re human, that they’re struggling, that God loves the man who just stepped on your foot and didn’t apologize or the woman who shoved her way onto an already crowded train at the last second—God loves that person just as much as God loves you. (pp. 63-64)

Weber strives to be a contemplative in action, a person who finds God in all things, and who seeks out the liturgical practices of the Church to nourish the desire to give of herself in imitation of Christ. This sister in faith can help to strengthen those who are still finding their way in the Church, or perhaps who have even lost their way for a time. Mercy, she reminds us, is at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

Read an excerpt from Mercy in the City, and an author interview, at the Patheos Book Club here!

Tim Muldoon is a professor and has authored and edited several books. He served as chair of the department of religious studies, philosophy, and theology at Mount Aloysius College for many years before being named the inaugural director of the Church in the 21st Century Center at Boston College. He currently serves in the division of university mission and ministry at Boston College, and teaches in the university’s college of arts and sciences. 

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