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.
By: Rev. Paul Scalia
From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile (Mk 7:21-23).
Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery (Mk 10:11-12).
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth (Mt 23:17).
Would you characterize the above quotes as merciful? Probably not. They run contrary to the modern caricature of mercy as being nice to people…but remaining silent about moral failures. Our culture (both without and, unfortunately, within the Church) sets truth and mercy in opposition to each other. Truth is harsh and judgmental, mercy is gentle and indulgent. So the thinking goes.
But what about those quotes? How do we square their honesty with the All-Merciful Lord? We can only do so by recognizing that truth and mercy are not only not opposed to one another but in fact essential to each other. Truth without mercy is belligerence; Mercy without truth is moral dissolution. Mercy must be truthful and the truth must be merciful. Which leads us to more truths about mercy…
Mercy speaks of sin.
Dividing truth and mercy produces a counterfeit mercy: calling evil good. Mercy seeks to relieve another’s suffering – and what easier way to do that than by denying that there is any suffering at all? To ease the suffering of those in sin, we simply call their evil good…and they feel better.
Genuine mercy speaks the truth about sin and its effects. Our Lord begins His public ministry with the call to repentance. He does not mince words about our sinfulness. He warns the woman caught in adultery to sin no more and to the man born blind He says, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you” (Jn 5:17). He warns His listeners against moral complacency: “if you do not repent, you will all perish” (Lk 13:5). And Jesus speaks more than anyone else in scripture about hell.
None of this looks very nice. But it is eminently merciful. We cannot bring help, consolation, forgiveness, or healing where there is no recognition of wrongdoing. The illness must be diagnosed before the remedy can be applied. Now, this does not give us permission to harangue every relative, friend, and passerby about their moral failings. But when our relationships afford us both the opportunity and the ability, we have a corresponding responsibility to mercifully convey the truth.
Mercy speaks of God.
Mercy gives us the truth about God. Nothing enslaves as thoroughly as a mistake about God, for that infects everything. The doctrine of the Catholic Church frees us from the slavery of error. It is called Good News, after all. The truth of God as Creator frees us from the pagan slavery to nature. The truth of His victory over death delivers us from the evil one. And most of all, the truth of God as merciful frees us from despair. If we fail to speak the truth about God, then we leave others in the slavery of ignorance and sin.
Notice, mercy itself is a truth. Not a notion or idea, not an opinion, but solid, cold, hard, doctrinal truth. Strong enough to enable us to rest secure. Ironically, if in the name of mercy we cut corners on doctrine, then we also weaken the strong foundations of mercy.
The truth speaks mercifully.
Authentic mercy must be truthful…and the truth must be merciful. The method and motives for communicating truth must always be worthy of the One Who is Truth. Jesus reserves His harshest rebukes for those who manipulated the truth for their own ends, who delivered the truth mercilessly. The Pharisees in particular used the truth as a trap for our Lord or a way to trip Him up.
It is not enough to speak the truth. It must be spoken mercifully, and with a view to mercy. Mercy treats the truth with reverence and not just to score a point or win an argument. The truth delivered harshly or coldly can be offensive and off-putting – the opposite of mercy.
A common refrain in the Christmas liturgies is (according to an older translation) Mercy and truth have met each other (Ps 85:10). The birth of Christ – Who is Himself both incarnate truth and incarnate mercy – reveals to the world the union of these two treasures. In these last days of Christmastide, may the Christ child unite them also in our hearts.
Tomorrow: A Severe Mercy
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