Answers from our student essay contest winners
For the third annual Northwest Catholic Student Essay Contest, we asked Catholic school students to reflect, in light of Pope Francis’ declaration of the Holy Year of Mercy, on the question “What does true mercy look like?” Entries poured in from 34 Catholic schools in Western Washington.
The essays were judged by a panel drawn from the staffs of Northwest Catholic, the Office for Catholic Schools and the Fulcrum Foundation, which supports Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Seattle. We are proud to present the winning high school, middle school and elementary school essays.
HIGH SCHOOL WINNER
Mary Grace Curran. Photo: Stephen Brashear
True mercy: Not deserved, still given
By Mary Grace Curran
“Let’s try to finish this quickly so we can play the game.” “Do we really have to do this?” “I went to confession in second grade. Once is enough.” Dozens of CYO high school campers uttered these phrases as we piled into the chapel for our evening prayer and reconciliation service. Excited to engage in the next activity planned for the night, we teenagers were not exactly jumping at the idea of spending an hour in adoration, reconciliation and prayer. Surprisingly, only a few minutes into the service, people started lining up to go to confession. Those not in line were praying, singing along with the worship music, and gazing upon the Blessed Sacrament. An incredible aura of peace was present in the chapel, unlike the distractions and boredom I usually faced during prayer.
About a half an hour into the service, a boy walked out of the confessional. After making his way to the back of the room, he sat down, putting his head in his hands. Another camper approached the boy and walked with him out of the chapel. I could hear the boy sobbing outside, and at once knew complete forgiveness and mercy overwhelmed him. Following that, many campers joined together outside, forming prayer circles, and several returned teary-eyed. Sitting on the floor of the chapel praying, I began to more fully realize why Jesus died on the cross and the effect it has on us. At any age, but especially as teenagers, we are hesitant to go to confession and tend to think, “God cannot love me because of this; what I have done is too terrible for forgiveness.” That night, we discovered not only does God forgive us for every sin, he is waiting to do so with open, welcoming arms. Before this, many had blocked out any desire to go to confession because of fear. Now, realizing forgiveness was the best thing we could receive, everyone experienced true mercy.
The service quickly turned to three hours instead of one, and almost everyone attended confession. We ran out of time to play the scheduled game, but everyone had forgotten about it anyway. Later that week at the evening campfire, the boy shared a poem. The beginning was about sin and darkness, but at the end he said, “I have been forgiven, now my soul is clean.” The entire camp exploded in applause, and everyone was smiling, knowing he had experienced true mercy. Seeing this happen reestablished my knowledge that God never abandons us, always forgives us, and sends waves of mercy toward us from every direction. We just have to be open to it, and that night we all learned how to do that. The next time you think, “How could God ever forgive me for this?,” think again. He wants to show you mercy more than you know.
Mary Grace Curran is a sophomore at John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien.
MIDDLE SCHOOL WINNER
Manoli Tramountanas. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Dig a little deeper
By Manoli Tramountanas
True mercy is God’s love and forgiveness. At least, that is what we have always been taught. I never gave this much thought — until I sat down to write this essay. My first thought was to give examples of what I consider to be true mercy in my daily life — isn’t mercy when my teachers don’t assign any homework? Isn’t mercy when I am free to go to the skate park after school with my friends? Or how about when I can get an extra hour of sleep? But the more I thought about it, I realized these mercies are minor compared to the mercy God shows us. God doesn’t punish us, but instead loves and forgives us, even though we are all sinners. And God shows us this true mercy every day, even if we get tons of homework, even if we are too busy to hang out with our friends, and even if we are sleep-deprived. God’s unconditional love is the definition of true mercy.
Humans are imperfect; everyone makes mistakes. This makes God’s mercy very important. In today’s world, it seems like people are relying less on God and prayers. Instead, they think God does not love them, or pay special attention to them. They are wrong. God loved them before they were even born. God loves every one of us and that is why he sacrificed his one and only Son for us. Instead of turning away from God, they should turn toward him. Instead of relying less on God, people need God’s mercy more. If you ever think that God doesn’t show you true mercy, be thankful to be alive — because the gift of God’s love is (and always has been) our best evidence of God’s true mercy.
What is true mercy? I think God would reply, “True mercy is the love and forgiveness I show you every day.” Some people are oblivious to God’s love and mercy. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; it just means they have to dig a little deeper to find it.
Manoli Tramountanas is an eighth-grader at St. John School in Seattle.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WINNER
Audrey Zdunich. Photo: Stephen Brashear
Even if they’re not sorry
By Audrey Zdunich
When I was younger, I remember being with my mom in a store full of fragile, breakable things. She told me to “stay close” and “look with your eyes, not your hands.” So, when I accidentally knocked a vase off the shelf and it shattered into a hundred little pieces, I knew I was in big trouble and was going to be punished. However — and to this day I still don’t understand why — my mom gathered me in her arms and whispered, “Everything will be OK. I’ll take care of it.” That is when I really started to understand what mercy looked and felt like.
My teacher shared a quote with me by Peter Kreeft that says: “It is mercy, not justice or courage or even heroism, that alone can defeat evil.” I hear about many of the harsh and horrible things happening all over the world and the terrible people who cause these things, but I try to see the good people like policemen, doctors and individuals who show mercy by helping and being kind to others who may or may not deserve it.
I watched the news when Pope Francis made his visit to the United States, and I think his message to people everywhere was full of mercy. His words were gentle, loving and peaceful, not full of judgment with all the wrong in the world.
I’ve come to see that mercy isn’t just showing kindness to someone who does or doesn’t deserve it. Mercy is forgiving and helping someone who may not even be sorry. That is what mercy looks and feels like to me.
Audrey Zdunich is a fourth-grader at St. Rose School in Longview.
Northwest Catholic mourns the death of Sue Mecham, the managing director of the Fulcrum Foundation. Just two weeks after helping to choose these winning essays, Mecham died unexpectedly Nov. 15, at the age of 58. She was a joyful and generous supporter of this essay contest and, more importantly, of Catholic schools and their students.
Northwest Catholic - January/February 2016