PRACTICE MERCY THIS LENT
In discerning, what to write in this month’s Lenten column, I asked myself, “What more could I write about Lent which had not already been written?” Spending the afternoon praying instead of writing, I was led to contemplate Mercy. In light of the divide, which is drawn through our country right now, between the prolife and prochoice agenda, it seems most timely.
John Paul II, Rich in Mercy, 14, tells us, “Jesus Christ taught that mankind not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called “to practice mercy” towards others: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). The Church sees in these words a call to action, and she tries to practice mercy. If all the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount indicate the way of conversion and of reform of life, then the one referring to those who are merciful is particularly eloquent in this regard. Mankind attains to the merciful love of God, His mercy to the extent that he himself is interiorly transformed in the Spirit of that love toward his neighbor.
This most essential evangelical process is not just a single breakthrough of heart but a whole style of life, an essential attribute of the Christian vocation… In this sense, Christ crucified is for us the loftiest model, inspiration and encouragement. When we base our life on this impressive model, we are able with all humility to show mercy to others, knowing that Christ accepts it as if it were shown to Himself (Cf. Mt 25:34-40). On the basis of this model, we must also continually purify all our actions and intentions in which mercy is understood and practiced in only one direction, that is, as a good done to others. An act of merciful love is only really such when we are deeply convinced at the moment of performing it that we are at the same time receiving mercy from the people who are accepting it from us. If this two-directional and mutual quality is absent, our actions are not yet true acts of mercy, nor has there yet been fully completed in us that conversion to which Christ has shown us the way by His words and example, even to the Cross. We are not yet sharing fully in the magnificent source or merciful love that has been revealed to us by Him…
It is precisely in the name of this mystery of mercy that Christ teaches us to forgive always. How often we repeat the words of the prayer which He Himself taught us, asking “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” which means those who have committed an offense against us (Mt 6:12). It is difficult, frankly, to express the deep value of the attitude which these words describe and form. How much these words say to everyone about others and at the same time about themselves! The consciousness of usually being debtors to each other goes hand in hand with the call to fraternal solidarity, which St. Paul expressed in his concise exhortation to “forbear one another in love” (Eph 2; Cf. Gal 6:2). What a lesson of humility is to be found here for man, for both one’s neighbors and oneself! What a school of good will for each day in the various situations of our life…
Christ emphasizes so insistently to the need to forgive others that when Peter asked Him how many times he should forgive his neighbor He answered with the symbolic number of “seventy times seven” (Mt 18:22), meaning that he must be able to forgive everyone every time. It is obvious that such a generous requirement of forgiveness does not cancel out the objective requirements of justice. Properly understood, justice is, so to speak, the goal of forgiveness. In no passage of the Gospel message does forgiveness, or mercy as its source, mean tolerance toward evil, toward scandals, toward injury or insult. In every case reparation for evil and scandal, compensation for injury, and satisfaction for insult are conditions of forgiveness...”
The church stressed the importance of mercy in our faith through the Works of Mercy.
Corporal Works of Mercy:
- Feed the Hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Comfort the imprisoned
- Visit the sick
- Bury the dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy:
- Admonish sinners
- Instruct the uninformed
- Counsel the doubtful
- Comfort the sorrowful
- Be patient to those in error
- Forgive offences
- Pray for the living and the dead
Like many of you, I learned these works of mercy as a child but really don’t think much about them today. I would not have been able to list them all without a reference. But these teachings are a profound roadmap to living our faith. Perhaps we should keep them close by and read them frequently, making a firm decision to follow them each day and in all situations, especially the most difficult ones.
The Works of Mercy leads us towards humility, one of the most powerful ways to grow not only closer to Jesus but also closer to becoming more like Jesus. The action of mercy through love is our greatest commandment. In response to the question about the first of the commandments, Jesus answered: “The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 29-31.
So, this Lent, practice mercy with love and humility! Mercy in your families, with your friends and your work and in your church and communities and see the difference it makes, both within you and around you!