I know the title, Pope Francis, a Rabbi, Mercy, and Rosh Hashanah, sounds a bit like the set up for an old Borscht Belt routine. It is anything but. It is simply a brief expression of gratitude to a man I consider to be a great spiritual teacher, for offering a policy that not only speeds and eases the annulment process for Catholics, but reminds me of a core teaching about the meaning of mercy in my own tradition as well — one central to the purpose the High Holiday season in which we find ourselves.
Pope Francis declared that this Year of Mercy would be marked by many efforts to live the teaching of "The Meek and Merciful Jesus," and today's announcement that lowers the cost, eases the path, and shortens the time it takes to determine an annulment is certainly part of that effort for many Catholics. The pope's focus on mercy also comes as more Jews will spend more time in synagogue than at any other time of year, and as they do, they will encounter the word mercy over and over again. It is a fundamental part of the repentance and repair that stand at the center of all those words that are read and sung, as it is in the rest of life and throughout the year.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word for mercy, rahamim, is rooted in the word for womb. To experience mercy, and to grant mercy, is to return to where it all began and get a fresh start — to be reborn. Who doesn't need that at times during their life? And wouldn't we all be better off if we allowed ourselves to grant at least a bit of such mercy to at least a few more people in the year ahead? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.
Either way, it seems to me that such a path to a fresh start is precisely what the pope seeks for more people who genuinely seek it. And while I leave it to "Vatican watchers" to explain what all this might mean for Catholics, I am a grateful Jew who simply wants to thank Pope Francis for reminding me about the power of mercy, at just the right time in my own ritual calendar.