Visitors to my home, on seeing the landline adorned with a sticker proclaiming ‘BE NICE’ are intrigued and ask what it means. Although I may not use the phrase ‘ Year of Mercy’ in my reply, in fact that’s part of the reason for the sticker. Unfortunately the sticker is necessary because there are telephone situations where I’m not always nice and I need the reminder that Christ asks us to be merciful in all situations, the trivial as well as the dramatic. One of the most dramatic examples of the practice of mercy in recent years concerned a mother in the USA whose small child had been abducted and murdered. The murderer was caught and sentenced to death. But, the mother on realising his insanity, campaigned for his death sentence to be commuted to imprisonment instead. When asked if her efforts to get him taken off death row meant she had forgiven him, she replied she hadn’t forgiven him, but she didn’t want him to be harmed.
The challenge of practicing mercy with troublesome telephone callers is indescribably trivial compared to the challenge which faced the bereaved mother. But my life is mostly made up of small things and it is in small things I’m asked to be merciful. I’m thinking of calls made by scammers. Sometimes it seems that never a week goes by without someone ringing, claiming to be from Microsoft and trying to persuade me to allow them remote access to my computer. I feel angry with these callers because their aim is to hack into my bank account. Under the guise of helping they are seeking to steal from the people they are calling.
When I talk about this annoyance with friends, they describe a variety of responses to the scammers. Some put the phone down immediately they hear the word ‘computer’. Some keep the caller talking as long as possible so that the caller has less time to con someone else. Others respond with sharp words, which I’ve also done. However, the gospel message is to love my enemies, to do good to those who hurt me, to be merciful to all including fraudsters like the telephone scammers. And so I ask myself, how can I be merciful to telephone scammers? At the present I put the phone down as soon as I realise who is calling and then say a quick prayer for them. It might be better to talk to them, inviting them to a change of heart but that feels like a step too far. So for the time being my ‘be nice’ is a negative kind of mercy in that I’m holding back from invective but not saying anything that might be helpful. There’s a children’s song, ‘It’s not easy being green’. I would say ‘It’s not easy being nice’. And so until being nice gets easier I need the sticker to remind me, don’t be nasty – BE NICE.
-Ann Finlay, St Barnabas Cathedral Catechist