Q: Archbishop J, Why should I show mercy?
Our natural inclination is to go for justice. Every child knows what fairness is. It is built into us as a deep guiding interior force that pushes towards harmony and balance, as when two children argue about who got the bigger slice of a cake.
In Barbados people have come up with a new verb for this. Children say: “So-and—so un-faired me.” So fairness and victim status are rolled into one lethal cocktail. From this perspective we keep striving for this sense of fairness—justice—not seeing the challenge that this creates.
The Old Testament teaches us, “eye for eye and tooth for tooth Jesus updates this teaching. “ButI tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well ” (Mt 5:38).
The New Testament moves from justice to mercy. This is a signiﬁcant challenge. Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching on non-violence surmises that: eye for eye and tooth for tooth would leave a half-blind toothless world. Where does justice stop? Where do we end the war? When has justice been served? This has led nations and families to keep provoking violence. It cannot be satisﬁed and so there can be no peace.
In The Merchant of Venice (Act IV, Scene I) William Shakespeare reﬂects on this question of mercy and justice. It is a ﬁne reﬂection on the Christian understanding:
The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown:
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthronéd in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy
Justice is the most elemental human experience and expectation. Jesus, as the icon of the invisible God, shows forth another face, the face of mercy. If God is love, then mercy is what love does when the beloved messes up. This is why mercy “seasons justice”. It is why mercy is more blessed than justice. This is at the heart of the Easter proclamation.
God’s justice would have required an obliteration of humanity. God’s mercy, however, raised Jesus from the dead—for us. We received mercy when we deserved something very different. The ultimate sign of love is the Cross: the ultimate sign of Divine Mercy is the resurrection.
Deeds of mercy
St Faustina writes in her diary: “Yes, the ﬁrst Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to our neighbours always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it” (742). Divine Mercy Sunday is a time of reﬂection on our commitment to mercy. To be a Christian is to be a presence of mercy in the world. The Christian became a child of God through an act of mercy from God. Having received such great mercy how could we do anything less than offer extreme mercy to others?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbour in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God” (2447).
The Christian life is characterised by the practice of these spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Wherever you ﬁnd the Catholic Church these works should abound. They should be part of the fabric of life of the Catholic and be manifested in a collective way in the parish and the diocese. I know a person who always buys some canned stuff at the grocery so she can have something to give to those who come seeking, whether on the road or at home. This is a conscious practice of mercy.
Another lady—a very simple and humble woman— raised over 55 children in her lifetime. She did not have money and many times relied purely on God’s providence. Her light shone. During this Easter season let us look at the works of
mercy—spiritual and corporal. Let us examine our practice of mercy. Could we take up a new practice of mercy this Easter?
If you are looking for ways to show mercy there are two areas of great need in our Archdiocese: (1) Ministry for Migrants and Refugees. Enquire in your parish if the ministry already exists. If not, speak to your parish priest about starting one, and (2) Ministry to Prisoners. The team visiting the prisons can be contacted at 628-3254.
If each of us was to consciously increase his or her practice of mercy, what a great gift that will be to Christ, who suffers daily in our nation.
KEY MESSAGE: Mercy is integral to the Easter message. It is what God did for us in Christ Jesus our Risen Lord.The resurrection is God’s great mercy to us. Mercy”is an attribute of God himself”.
ACTION STEP: Review your practice of mercy. Do you have practices that you do often that are part of the mercy tradition? If yes, Great! Strengthen it. If no, take up a practice of mercy this Easter time.Then you will be twice blessed.
BIBLE READING: Mt 25: 31 —46