Mercy of the heart and mercy of the hands

This is how Fr Cantalamessa describes the quality of true mercy, and the two ways are closely linked:

Above all, the heart

It is our hearts that have to be merciful, otherwise our mercy will be mere philanthropy. When we brand the recipients of our mercy as being ‘less fortunate’ than ourselves, we seem to forget that we too are in need, we too are recipients of mercy: we are all fortunate to be at the receiving end of God’s infinite mercy.

It is in our hearts that the struggle to be merciful is fought: it is there that I discover whether I believe in a God whose main characteristic is mercy, or whether my god is the lawgiver and enforcer, fair and just, but ultimately merciless, more interested in compliance than with those who do not make it to the ideal.

In the Gospel parable, the unforgiving debtor was punished not because he asked for more than was his due, but because he did not acknowledge that being on the receiving end of mercy, he had no right to be hard with his fellow debtor, who owed him only a small fraction of what he had been forgiven.

Deeds and not words

Yet, our mercy has to be mercy of the hands if it is true.

Jesus tells us very clearly that ultimately we will be judged on the concreteness of our mercy, on how we reacted to those suffering hunger and thirst, to refugees, the sick and those in prison.  Those in need of my mercy are actually more, not less, fortunate than me because Jesus identifies himself with them: Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you have done to me.

The Christian tradition developed this into two lists of ‘Works of Mercy’: seven works directed more to bodily needs and another seven directed rather to spiritual needs. This second list includes not only actions like counselling the doubtful and consoling those in sorrow, but also being patient and forgiving those whom we find trying.

Unless our hands and our hearts are united, our mercy is not true.  Let me try and think of one person or one situation where I feel my heart is less than merciful, but harsh and exacting. Let me ask for the grace of a merciful heart and merciful hands, so that I may be more like my Father in heaven.

Today’s Audiovisual: Although this video advert entitled ‘Unsung Hero’ has been around for some time now, it won’t do any harm to watch it again as its message will support today’s reflection quite well: