This week, Father Scalia unites our world’s calendar year with the Church’s Jubilee Year of Mercy in a week-long series on Living Mercy in 2016. This is the second installment. The first installment was What is Mercy.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
From his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace (Jn 1:16).
God’s mercy is graceful. Not in the sense that it is always soft and gentle and beautiful (more on that another time). But graceful in a more literal sense. Mercy is itself a grace – that is, undeserved, unmerited. And His mercy comes to us through His grace. Indeed, these two realities are so similar we might be tempted to use the words interchangeably. Considering grace – as the Gospel for Christmas Day (Jn 1:1-18) encourages us – helps us understand even more the characteristics of mercy.
First, mercy takes the initiative. Grace is free and undeserved. We do not earn it, nor could we ever. Just so, God does not wait for us to be worthy of His mercy (which would be an absurdity). He comes in search of us before we even know we need to be found. He is the father who does not await his son’s arrival but races out to meet him. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost (Lk 19:10).
Second, mercy is proportioned. Indeed, God has proportioned Himself to us by becoming one of us. So grace comes to us through the sacred humanity of Jesus – by way of a human nature with which we can identify, by human words we can hear and a human body we can touch. The grace of the sacraments also comes to us in a manner within our reach, which we can understand and grasp: water, words, bread, wine. Just so, His mercy is suited to us, fit for our nature, our needs and our wounds. He, the Divine Physician, knows precisely the medicine needed for each illness.
Third, mercy seeks union. By way of His grace, God unites Himself with us and us with Himself. In His mercy He has assumed our nature and by means of it all our sufferings and wounds. This grace of union is a profound expression of mercy. God does not look down on us with the attitude of noblesse oblige. He draws close by way of grace in order to communicate His mercy personally, intimately, directly.
Fourth, mercy is excessive. By way of His grace, God gives us more than we deserve. Grace not only restores us to a sinless life (already more than we deserve), but also elevates us to what we were not before. He makes us children of God. Justice seeks to give each what he deserves. Mercy calculates the requirements of justice…and gives more. Mercy is proportioned to who we are – in order to make us more than we are. Even as we experience a mercy proportioned to our wounds and weaknesses, we experience it also as a mercy that brings us beyond anything we had anticipated, hoped – or deserved.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).
The Father bestows on us that graceful mercy that frees us from sin and makes us His children. But that grace in place of grace makes us also capable of imitating His mercy. Which means…
Taking the initiative… Our mercy cannot wait for the other person to apologize or ask forgiveness. (“I’ll forgive him, alright, once he comes and apologizes to me!”) Indeed, that day may never come. We must choose to forgive even before we are asked. Nor should we wait to be asked to do works of mercy. There is enough suffering around us that we can easily seek and find the good needing to be done.
Proportioning ourselves… We cannot offer mercy on our own terms. After all, it is no mercy to give people what they do not need or require what they cannot do. Our mercy should be suited to their needs (which, of course, is a very different thing from their wants). Some need a listening ear, some instruction. Some need a kind word, some a strong one. Some need a visit, some merely need prayers. As He has proportioned Himself to our needs, so also we to one another.
Seeking union… To show mercy to others we need to draw near (as we are able and as is healthy). Our culture offers many opportunities for remote mercy – donating money by checking a box or clicking a tab. Such things certainly help those of us in the non-profit world, but… The more profound and genuine mercy draws near to those in need – first in authentic prayer of the heart for the other, and then in personal contact and encounter. Yes, financial giving helps others do good work. But human suffering needs human contact more than anything else.
Giving generously… Which means sacrificing, seeking out those occasions for mercy that might not be what we prefer, not what we find comfortable. For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do the same (Lk 6:32-33).
Tomorrow: Mercy is honest.
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