Grace to you!
We continue our Lenten reflections focused on living a virtuous life. Today, I reflect on being merciful as an example of virtuous life.
To refresh our mind, a virtuous act is one that is good and arises from a right, good character and inner disposition. It is not just about the action done. For instance, a thief who stole money and gave a bundle to a passerby hasn’t practiced a virtuous act of generosity. For our personal Christ-centered spiritual growth, why we do what we do helps us to discern the quality of our actions. Virtue is about consistent character and disposition resulting in good thoughts and actions. Virtue is about hearts attuned to Godliness and actions that are good flowing from it.
Let’s continue with the topic on mercy. Imagine a situation where a humbling child went off to college. Two years after, the parents realized he had wasted their resources. He missed classes numerous times. In short, he had to be dismissed by the school authorities.
If, after some thoughts which arose from compassion, the parents give him a second chance; if they allow him to enroll in another school and still fund some of his tuition, such a case is an example of mercy.
This may sound like enabling the child. It could be. Any practical example of mercy could easily be misunderstood as cheap leniency. It could sound like enabling. It could be rejected as going against justice.
However, we speak of mercy because we know the one who receives it does not deserve it. We speak of mercy because persons who are merciful chose to forgo or soften penalty due to the offender.
We read from Scripture how God is “pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance.” God shows compassion and “tramples our iniquities under foot” (Mic 7:18-19).
Our faith teaches us that the worst punishment to the human soul is separation from God. After all, hell is a state of eternal separation from God. Mystics such as St. Catherine of Sienna and Saint Faustina, to mention but a few, describe the unimaginable pain one feels when eternally separated from God. So, if God shows pardon to the sinner, God is already mitigating that pain (punishment) of separation. This is mercy.
St. Thomas Aquinas was spot-on when he suggests that mercy is proper to God (ST, II, II q.30, 4), for one who is higher shows mercy. The parable of the prodigal son (Lk 15:11-32), regarded by some scholars, as the parable of divine mercy, gives us some insight into the heart of God. One of the lessons of that parable is how to practice the virtue of mercy.
Pay attention to the heart of that father, who welcomed the prodigal son and spared him the punishment he deserved. The father was compassionate. He was concerned with the misery of the prodigal son. The father forfeited a response he was justified to carry out. He showed mercy.
In that parable, the Lord Jesus teaches us the disposition of God. It shows the character of God, who is rich is mercy and forgiveness (Eph 2:4).
To practice the virtue of mercy, one has to be inspired from the heart. A virtue is a character. In the Thomistic sense, it is an habitual disposition.
A heart that is disposed with the character of compassion and pity for another is a heart that is merciful. It is this that helps us to be considerate in response to whatever wrong done to us.
Mercy is hard. If not for you, for me it is hard to practice. Yet, God invites us to lead by way of mercy as we consider justice. God’s grace helps us to do this.
During this Lent, consider a situation where you could practice this virtue more readily. Is there someone whose penalty you could lessen? Yes, they deserve what they got. But can you mitigate the punishment? You would be practicing mercy if you do so.
God, give us the grace to be merciful as you are merciful. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Saturday Lent Week 2: Mi 7:14-16,18-20; Lk 15:1-3, 11-32]
Father Maurice Emelu, Ph.D., provides a daily blog of reflections for the season of Lent your individual spiritual edification. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations. .