By Christina Galeone
WORCESTER – “I think one of the things that the Holy Father is asking us to do during the Holy Year of Mercy is to reflect on how we have felt God’s merciful presence in our lives,” said Mathew N. Schmalz, an associate professor at the College of the Holy Cross. “In thinking about my own life, I realized that mercy was a constant theme…”
In Mr. Schmalz’s new book, “Mercy Matters: Opening Yourself to the Life-Changing Gift,” that theme is brought to life in colorful vignettes that reflect the author’s personal witness to and experience of mercy. Through the three sections of Mercy and Self, Mercy and Others and Mercy and God, Mr. Schmalz unearths the simple and complex ways that mercy has touched his life and the lives of others. These reflections encourage readers to explore mercy in their lives as well.
Happily married with two daughters and a dog named Harold, Mr. Schmalz said that he’s grateful that he was given the opportunity to write the book and reflect on how God has touched his life with his mercy.
“I actually was asked to write the book by Our Sunday Visitor Press after an editor there had read a piece by me in Crux, when it was part of The Boston Globe,” said Mr. Schmalz. “I wrote about seeing an image of the Divine Mercy in Sri Lanka, where I was leading a study abroad program.”
In the book, he writes about that experience in an impoverished, war-torn village. In the midst of the remnants of dire suffering, he struggled to understand how God’s mercy was present for the many people affected by the area’s civil war. But it’s only one of the many painful or challenging memories – including the loss of his dad – he revisited while writing the book.
Additionally, he humbly faced other difficult recollections. They included a past battle with alcoholism, his sorrow over bullying a fellow childhood classmate and his ongoing conflicts concerning his search for his birth family. While he said that his gratitude for being able to share his story of becoming sober is what helped him revisit those dark memories, he said that writing about his search for his birth mother (which led to a discovery of half siblings) and his adoption was more painful.
“In working through those issues, it was helpful to talk to my mother about my birth mother in order to gain perspective and understand that my birth mother made a courageous decision by choosing life,” said Mr. Schmalz, who added that he began the search while writing the book. “Talking things through with your parents really does help – but as the book makes clear, it took me a long time to realize that.”
Although, in the book, he describes the story of his adoption as the defining story of his life, writing the chapter about his reluctant and surprising meeting, at a high school reunion, with the man he once bullied was also important to him.
“If there’s one chapter I would really encourage people to read, it’s the second chapter on bullying, in which I speak about reconciling with a former classmate,” noted Mr. Schmalz. “It was such a powerful experience for me and shows that no matter how much time has passed, forgiveness and friendship are possible.”
Despite having three distinct sections, all of the chapters include intertwining relationships among God, others and self. Mr. Schmalz sums up this collaboration in a chapter about mercy and dignity. He writes: “To see and treat another person as a reflection of God is to understand that a special relationship with God is made possible through, with, and in that person — at that time, in that very moment. Human dignity is relational: it proceeds vertically from God, but also moves horizontally to connect us all. Mercy that respects human dignity affirms not just the special bond between humans and God, but also the special bond that humans share with one another.”
Poignant insights like that one are woven throughout the book. Approaching each chapter with honesty and candor, Mr. Schmalz presents a collection of unassuming reflections that can inspire readers to uncover God’s mercy in their lives. With each chapter ending with some questions for personal reflection and others for group discussion, the book is also ideal for church groups.
While the book beautifully explores the life-changing gift of mercy, Mr. Schmalz agrees with the notion that writing “Mercy Matters” was also a life-changing gift.
“As I was writing the book, I was able to reach out and express my gratitude to many people who had shown me mercies throughout my life,” Mr. Schmalz shared. “It’s never too late to express gratitude to someone who has shown you kindness, or forgiveness. Reconnecting with those who had been important in my life – but whom I had lost touch with – was a transformative experience that helped me to realize more deeply God’s presence throughout my life.”