Mercy promotes the common good

By | April 26, 2011

There are many attributes of God that deserve our attention and gratitude. The attribute of love, of compassion, of slowness to anger are just a few. Another is that of mercy.

Jesus is the merciful love of the Father. When he appears to the frightened disciples locked behind closed doors, his greeting is one of peace. Jesus “felt” their misery and his forgiving word alleviated their fear and shame. Even more, he immediately empowered them through the gift of the Holy Spirit to become agents of mercy and peace to others. These “unhappy beings” could now rejoice and throw open the doors of freedom.

Jesus extended his merciful love to Thomas, the famous doubter. In some way Thomas tasted the pain and agony of the wounded, risen Lord. Jesus’ love and Thomas’ misery” gave birth to a new, merciful spirit. Thomas, too, became an agent of God’s compassion and forgiveness.

Mercy seeks expression. Within our rich Catholic tradition, we have a listing of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy that invite us to be specific in our addressing the misery of the human condition. To live the corporal works of mercy — feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive and burying the dead — is to walk in the way of our merciful God. To live the spiritual works of mercy — instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing the sinner, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses, comforting the afflicted and praying for the living and the dead — is to be a disciple of the Lord.

The early Christian community, as recorded in Acts, pooled their resources and then addressed the needs of all. There was here a sense of the common good that challenges our contemporary individualism. The source of this sharing was rooted in the person of Jesus, in the grace of love, and in the virtue of mercy.

St. Peter’s letter states our theme well: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ form the dead …” (1 Pt 1:3). It is God’s mercy that changes us from “unhappy beings” into joyful disciples. Indeed, “may his mercy endure forever.”

Questions for reflection

1. What is your understanding of mercy?

2. Which of the corporal or spiritual works of mercy can you do this week?

3. What is your response to human misery?

Bishop Morneau is the auxiliary bishop of the Green Bay Diocese and pastor of Resurrection Parish in Allouez.

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