Mercy, Part 1 - The Ecology of Social Mercy
Social mercy is mercy among people – families, peers, community, Church. For us Christians, ‘mercy is love when it encounters suffering. It’s when love meets the poor, weak and broken – the least’[i]. To forgive, to free, to heal, to console, to clothe, to feed, to shelter, to befriend, to correct, to bring good news to, to repair injustice, to intercede, to pray for, to host, to forebear with, to protect, to nourish, to bury the dead – these and more are all acts of mercy! Our religious ecology demands mercy to be exchanged for mercy. And that mercy to the unmerciful is annulled[ii]. Opposite and eternal consequences befall both the merciful (heaven) and the unmerciful (hell)[iii]. In the Divine Mercy prayer, we bravely supplicate to God: “for the sake of [Jesus’] sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world”.
Is alleviating poverty an act of mercy? Definitely! But how is this so, and to whom is mercy granted?
In the beatitudes, ‘blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy’[iv]. And from Our Lord’s Prayer: ‘forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive each one who is in debt to us.’[v] From these, we can surmise that an offender’s sin or trespass results in a collectable debt or enforceable claim by the aggrieved, so that its forgiveness (or its write-off) by the aggrieved equates to mercy on the offender. The rich are people who have stewardship over freedom, and great resources. With these explained, what dynamic then had transpired to result in so much debt owed by the rich to the poor, and also by the poor to the rich?
Personal and economic excesses, idolatry and extremism, injustice and corruption, lack of compassion, lack of neighbourly concern, being inhospitable, greed and exploitation, selfishness and lusts for power and sex and status – these are some of the many reasons why the rich are infinitely indebted to the poor. From this perspective, we who are rich in the world’s goods and comforts – we who are free – we are the ones in need of mercy from them (the poor)! Think of sweathouses: child labour in the chocolate, coffee, shoe and garment industries. Think of regimes which are oppressive to Christians such as the Middle East (Sharia law), India (Caste), China (Communism), North Korea (Juche). Think of the wide-spread corruption in the Philippines through cronyism, nepotism, malversation toward public resources, and bribery. Think of societies where abortion and embryonic farming, mutilation and destruction are legalised. Think of street and crime syndicates, red light districts and sex slavery. Think of regulated and unregulated gaming, alcohol, pornography and drug addiction.
These offences results in many and complex sufferings of the poor: their downtroddeness, hunger, thirst, sickness and injuries, oppression, imprisonment, loneliness, addiction, nakedness, blindness, sickness, and their grief. From what fountain of grace, then, may the poor draw from to forgive such sins? The answer is in Our Lord, Jesus.
Jesus said to St Faustina that “The greater the sinner, the greater right he has to My mercy”[vi]. God hears the cry of His people so in one saving act of Divine wisdom and humility, God chooses to become man and hides himself in the poor[vii] (incognito!) so the poor will always have something commensurate with which to write-off (to forgive) the incalculable debts owed to them by the rich and overindulgent, the corrupt, and the oppressive.
In turn, here are (at least) nine reasons on how the poor trumps the rich, and dispirits them. First, like flies in the summer, the poor is ever-present[viii] and the eradication of poverty is a lofty ideal only achievable through religion that must be just, and holy, and believes in a universal physical resurrection (life after death)[ix]. Second, the poor can be disruptive and demanding[x]. Third, the poor have so little, materially, to trade with[xi] . Fourth, the poor shames the wealthy before God[xii] . Fifth, it is easier for the poor to enter heaven than it is for the rich[xiii]. Sixth, the rich who do not help the poor disinherits heaven and offends God himself![xiv] Seventh, it is not enough for the rich to simply be ‘good’ by keeping the commandments[xv]. Eight, by their poverty of spirit, the poor is more likely to merit everlasting bliss[xvi] . And most of all, God the Almighty King identifies himself as one who is poor in this world[xvii]. The inequity among rich and poor results also in a debt owed by the poor to the rich. This places the rich in the privileged position of forgiver and mercy giver through urgent, generous charitable works.
This, then explains the ecology of social mercy: The poor begs the rich for earthly relief and trades divine mercy (from God) for the prayers, corporeal acts and works of mercy by people (rich in faith) who willingly share God’s transforming love with the poor.
In Couples For Christ (CFC), our vision are to be both:
Reflection and Discussion
In commemoration of the Feast Day of St Leo the Great, and the Enhanced Vision and Mission of CFC ANCOP
[i] Fr. Michael E. Gaitley, MIC, “You did it to Me”, (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2014), p. 19
[ii] Matthew 18:21-25 ‘the parable of the unmerciful servant’
[iii] Matthew 25:34 ‘come and possess the kingdom’; Matthew 18:34 ‘he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount’
[iv] Matthew 5:7 ‘happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them.’
[v] Luke 11:3-4
[vi] Diary of St Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 1987), p. 723
[vii] Matthew 25:40,45 ‘in truth, I tell you, in so far as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me. . . . in so far as you neglected to do this to one of these, you neglected to do it to me’
[viii] Mark 14:7 ‘the poor you will always have with you’
[x] Luke 11:5-8 ‘friend, lend me three loaves’
[xi] 1 Kings 17:12 ‘all I have is a handful of flour and a bit of olive oil . . .that will be our last meal, then we will starve to death.’
[xii] Luke 21:3 ‘this poor widow put in more than all the others’
[xiii] Matthew 5:3 ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’; Mark 10:25 ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!
[xiv] Luke 16:23 ‘in Hades, where he was in great pain’; Matthew 25:40 ‘you did it to me’
[xv] Matthew 19:22 ‘he went away sorrowful’
[xvi] Matthew 5:3 ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’
[xvii] Luke 2:7 ‘wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for the in the inn’; Luke 9:58 ‘the Son of Man have nowhere to lay his head’; Isaiah 53:3 ‘he was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and like one from whom men hide their face, he was despised, and we did not esteem him.’