A few years back (late 2015 to 2016), Pope Francis declared a Jubilee of Mercy and chose Luke 6:36 as the theme and motto for that year of mercy: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
I think it was a wonderful invitation for many people to understand that our human practice of mercy is a participation in God’s own mercy, the bridge that allows His grace to flow forth and be present in each and every relationship, person, and encounter. The Holy Father once said: “Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” I think this was an important reminder for each and every one of us to contemplate often. Therefore, I would like to talk about mercy today.
I would like to integrate this reflection with a sermon from St. Caesarius of Arles on divine and human mercy. I believe his message is very important and is a powerful reminder for each and every one of us today.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. ‘Mercy’ is a beautiful word: more beautiful still is the thing itself. All men wish to receive it, but the worst thing is that not all of them behave in a way that deserves it. Although everyone wishes to be shown mercy only a few wish to show it.
I believe we talk much about mercy, but it actually needs to be personally integrated and practice in our own daily interactions with one another. It is so easy to say the “nice word” but when the opportunity arises for us to practice mercy, we often end up leaving it to God as we choose to continue on with what we want. Mercy requires us to get in touch with our personal relationship with the Almighty in order to find the grace to have the heart to understand, feel, and embrace the imperfections, miseries, and sufferings of the other person, beyond what he or she did or done to us. Just as He has been merciful to us in forgiving us of our sins, we should then have the heart to forgive, understand, and let go of one another’s fault. The saint who wrote this sermon lived in the late fifth to early sixth century. You and I can see the perennial problem of not practicing mercy existed even at his time! This has always been a hard challenge for Christians because when something goes wrong, especially when someone hurts us, we want to seek retributive justice right away. Yet, the Lord teaches us to seek mercy as He lived and practiced it in His own earthly life.
O man, how can you have the effrontery to ask for what you refuse to give to others? You must show mercy in this world if you want to receive mercy in heaven. So, my dearest brethren, since we all desire mercy, let us make ourselves mercy’s slaves in this world so that she can give us our freedom in the world to come. For there is mercy in heaven and we come to it through earthly mercies. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven.
I think he is absolutely right in reminding us to practice what we ask of God on a regular basis. We cannot be hypocritical in creating a double standard, one that we demand from the Lord and one that we like to put on people. We cannot just talk about it. We have to desire and practice it! If we desire God’s mercy upon us, we have to be conduits of divine grace by how we live and put into practice His own loving action. When we practice mercy, we allow ourselves not to be held back by our own natural, humanistic desires to take equal retributive action right away, but to reflect, pray, and discern of a more compassionate and Christian way to respond to the situation. We live in alignment not just to some worldly or social standards, but the recognition that God sees and knows our heart. We act not for other people to see, but to be genuine, humble, and honest in trying to love as the Lord has loved, embracing and forgiving people’s actions when they have wronged us. It is a challenging but proper Christian response that is both just and human (in the purest sense) as we recognize and conform our lives, words, and actions to the divine standard. In other words, we put into practice what our Heavenly Father has given us as His children by practicing the divine loving mercy to our brothers and sisters who are around us.
So there is earthly and heavenly mercy: that is, human and divine. What is human mercy? Exactly this: to have care for the sufferings of the poor. What is divine mercy? Without doubt, to grant forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy gives away on the journey, divine mercy pays back when we arrive at last in our native land. For it is God who feels cold and hunger, in the person of the poor. As he himself has said: As much as you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me. What God deigns to give on heaven, he yearns to receive on earth.
What sort of people are we if we want to receive, when God offers, but when God asks, we refuse to give? For when a poor man hungers, it is Christ who suffers want, as he himself has said: I was hungry and you gave me no food. Do not despise the misery of the poor if you want a sure hope of forgiveness for your sins. Christ is hungry now, brethren, in all the poor. He consents to suffer hunger and thirst – and whatever he receives on earth he will give back in heaven.
The saint continues on with his sermon, inviting us to see that the Lord is present in our neighbors, especially the poor and abandoned. It is important to recognize that how we treat one another in crucially integral to the life of faith because it is often similar to how we treat God! Just as He has forgiven and cares for us, so we should in turn care for one another! Why does the Lord love us? The answer is because He has formed, created, and breathed life into us with love. Therefore, as people who are created in His own image and likeness, we have to in turn practice and personalize the same loving heart as our Heavenly Father. Through the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ, God had chosen to send His only begotten Son to be with us, to love, and to die for us. Why? The answer is because we are worth it! Therefore, if we are worth saving, each and every one of us are worth forgiving and need to be respected. The Holy Spirit was sent among us as He continues to guide us to fulfill, further practice and live out the mission of Christ by how we treat and care for one another.
We, therefore, should care, pray, and look out for all, not just the people that we like, the ones that we can benefit from, or the ones who are powerful. Just as Christ who cared for all, we are called to love all. Just as He died for us, we should, in turn, die to ourselves in loving Him in one another. The people that we turn away reactively or rashly might be the same people that He is inviting to love and give ourselves totally and completely. Think about it! When we rush through things and quickly react in our personal decisions, we ignore what God has called us to do and stop putting into practice what we are meant to be. However, when we practice mercy, we simply say and act in with these intended words: “I care about you and I choose to give myself to you because you are worth it!” We care and choose to embrace the person not because he or she deserves it, but because he or she is worth it! Even though it might be hard or insignificant at the moment or in the eyes of others, they are worth it because they are loved by God, just as you and I are.
I ask you, brethren: when you come to church, what do you want? what are you looking for? Is it anything other than mercy? Then give earthly mercy and you will receive the heavenly kind. The poor man asks of you, and you ask of God: the poor man for food, you for eternal life. Give to the beggar what you want to deserve from Christ. Hear Christ saying Give and it will be given to you. I do not know how you can have the effrontery to want to receive what you do not want to give. And so, when you come to church, give, whatever you can afford as alms for the poor.”
Therefore, I would like to end this reflection with the same invitation as the saint. If we want something given to us, we perhaps should practice it to us. Much more, if we want the loving mercy of God, we should try our best to put into practice the merciful love of God. Let us give to one another not just what is on the outside or what can be seen by others, but to truly give to those who are around us the same love that God has given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and continues to live on through the power and working of the Holy Spirit. Let us care for one another, especially for those who have little or no one to care for them. In imitating God, we become His loving presence and conduits of divine mercy and transformative grace in each and every encounter with one another. Truly, when we practice mercy and compassion, loving and forgiving each other, we love as God loves! I end this reflection with the same words of the Holy Father as I began it: “Mercy is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.”