Be Merciful

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On the Virtue of Mercy and Love of Neighbor

By Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.

Jesus revealed to us the mystery of His heavenly Father’s merciful love not only for our own consolation and personal benefit, not only to give us absolute confidence in God, but also to teach us to be merciful to our neighbor. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. (Luke 6:48) Good attracts good, goodness engenders goodness, kindness inspires kindness; therefore, the more a soul penetrates the mystery of infinite mercy, the more it will be incited to emulate it. When we feel irritated with someone and little disposed to indulgence and pardon, we ought to plunge with all our strength into the consideration of the infinite mercy of God in order to stifle all harshness, resentment, and anger in ourselves. If we had but the slightest experience of our own wretchedness, it would not be difficult for us to realize that there is no moment of our lives in which we do not need the mercy of God. Our merciful Father is so forbearing that He never casts us off despite all our falls, never reproaches us about the many times He has forgiven us, never refuses us His paternal embrace of love and peace. Nothing softens a soul more, making it full of good will toward others, than this consideration. Oh! If others could see in our attitude toward them a reflection of God’s infinite mercy!

Peter had not yet completely understood the deep mystery of merciful love when he asked Jesus if it were enough to pardon his neighbor seven times. Jesus’ reply must have sounded like an exaggeration to him: I say not to thee, seven times, but seventy times seven times. (Matthew 18:22) Later, Peter’s heart was completely changed when he experienced the goodness of Jesus, Who, without a single word of reproach, forgave him his threefold denial so generously. This man, who was so impetuous, so quickly moved to anger, and so ready to threaten, was later to give to the primitive Church this gentle exhortation to goodness and pardon: be ye all of one mind, having compassion one on another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful…not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called. (1 Peter 3:8,9) How can we fail to hear in these words an echo of the words of Jesus: Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. (Matthew 5:44)

We notice in the Gospel how the words of Jesus, generally so mild and loving, even when addressed to the greatest sinners (like Mary Magdalen, the woman taken in adultery, and even Judas) become exceptionally severe and almost harsh, when He speaks of failures in fraternal charity. God loves us infinitely, and He has but one desire: to pour out upon our souls the torrents of His boundless mercy; yet His love and mercy seem to vanish and are replaced by severity in the measure that He finds us harsh and exacting toward our neighbor. We need God’s mercy so much; we have such need of His mild judgment, His pity, forgiveness, and mercy. Why, then, do we not do as much for others? Perhaps because they have offended us, have made us suffer? And have we never offended God? Have we not, by our sins, contributed to the most bitter Passion of Jesus? Too often we are like the cruel servant in the parable who, having received pardon from his master for a big debt, was not willing to pardon a trifling debt which one of his companions owed to him, but cast him into prison until he could pay the last cent. How can we expect mercy and forgiveness from God if we are so exacting with our neighbor? Let us not forget the words we repeat every day in the Our Father: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Let us act in such a way that these words will not be our own condemnation, for Jesus has said, For if you will forgive men their offenses, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offenses. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offenses. (Matt. 6:14,15) It depends, therefore, on ourselves, whether we shall one day be judged with more or less mercy.

“In the evening of life, we shall be judged on love” (Saint John of the Cross; SM I, 57), that is, we shall be judged on our love for God and for our neighbor.

“O Jesus, how much You esteem this mutual love of ours for one another! You could have taught us to say, ‘Forgive us, Lord, because we are doing a great deal of penance, we pray often, we fast, or because we have left all things for Your sake and we love You greatly,’ or ‘Forgive us because we would lose our life for Your sake’ or other words of the same kind; but You said only, ‘Forgive us, as we forgive!’

This is a truth which we should consider carefully. You, O Lord, have willed to bind a grace so great (in such a serious and important matter as pardoning our sins which have merited eternal fire) to such a simple condition as our forgiveness of others. But what about one as poor as I, who have had so few occasions for forgiving others and so many for being forgiven? O Lord, take my desire to do so, for I believe I would forgive any wrong if You would forgive me. But at this moment I see that I am so guilty in Your sight that I feel that those who injure me are treating me too well.

As I have so few even of these trifling things to offer You, O Lord, Your pardoning of me must be a free gift: here is abundant scope for Your mercy!”

“But are there, perhaps many others who are like myself and have not yet understood this truth? If there are any such, I beg them in Your Name, O Lord, to remember this truth often and to pay no heed to little things about which they think they are being slighted. Sometimes we get to the point of thinking that we have done something wonderful because we have forgiven a person for some trifling thing. Then we ask You, O Lord, to forgive us as people who have done something important, just because we have forgiven someone. Ah, Lord! Grant us to understand how little we understand ourselves and how empty our hands are! Deign to pardon us, but only by Your mercy!” (Saint Teresa of Avila; Way of Perfection)


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