Blessed are the Merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. – Matthew 5:7
Although we often think of justice and mercy as being incompatible with each other, the Bible teaches us to see them as being inseparable. Therefore, after telling us that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, or justice, or blessed, the Lord tells us that the merciful are also blessed. Righteousness really means to follow the law of God, but the law of God requires us to be merciful to one another. We must be both just and merciful because our Lord is both just and merciful. In the Catena Aurea, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “Justice and mercy are so united, that the one ought to be mingled with the other; justice without mercy is cruelty; mercy without justice, profusion—hence he goes on to the one from the other.”
Mercy is not the same thing as excusing other people’s actions or ignoring their wrongdoing. If that were the case, then mercy shown to the evildoer would be unmerciful to their victims, and so mercy wouldn’t really mean anything at all. Instead, mercy means loving one another as Christ has loved us, working for the true good of one another, and having compassion on the suffering. It’s not actually merciful to leave someone in a state of sin, because sin leads to death, and mortal sin leads to final death. The Lord gives us an example of true mercy when he speaks to the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The Mosaic Law says that she ought to be stoned for her sin, so they bring her to Jesus to see what he will say. First, he says, “Let whoever is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her” (Jn 8:7). Before accusing someone else, we should be aware of our own sins. We wouldn’t want to be judged solely on our worst moments, so we shouldn’t judge others on their worst moments, and we would want others to bring us to conversion, so we should work to convert others. After the men have gone away, Jesus says to the woman, “Has no one condemned you?... Neither will I condemn you. Go, and now do not choose to sin anymore” (Jn 8:10-11). The Lord is the one without sin, so He could, by His own words, cast the first stone, but He doesn’t, and neither does He excuse her actions. In the very next verse, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me does not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). When we encounter Jesus, the light of the world, His light overcomes our darkness. The most merciful thing we can do for one another is to bring them to Jesus, so that He might shine His light in their lives. As St. Jerome said, “Mercy here is not said only of alms, but is in every sin of a brother, if we bear one another’s burdens.”
St. John Chrysostom says, “The reward here seems at first to be only an equal return; but indeed it is much more; for human mercy and divine mercy are not to be put on an equality.” We show mercy by doing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the prisoners, bury the dead, give alms to the poor, counseling the doubtful, instructing the ignorant, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving injuries, bearing wrongs patiently, and praying for the living and the dead. That is, we try to relieve the suffering others, because we are motivated by the love of Christ, who came to be among us in order to save us by His Cross and Resurrection. Jesus Christ saved us by entering into our suffering, so we are moved to enter into the suffering of others. As St. Augustine said, “He pronounces those blessed who succour the wretched, because they are rewarded in themselves being delivered from all misery; as it follows, for they shall obtain mercy.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.