We explore the mystery of true mercy this 26th Ordinary Sunday.
Perhaps we can pick up something helpful for dealing with the cruelty with which those of a traditional leaning are being treated by the papalatrous Modernists right now. Perhaps they can pick something up from this about kicking people when they are down.
Our Collect for Sunday, slightly different from its ancestor in the ancient Gelasian Sacramentary, is also in the 1962 Missale Romanum for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost.
Deus, qui omnipotentiam tuam parcendo maxime et miserando manifestas, gratiam tuam super nos indesinenter infunde, ut, ad tua promissa currentes, caelestium bonorum facias esse consortes.
A consors is someone with whom you share a common destiny (cum, “with” + sors “lot, fate, destiny”). Parco means, “to spare, have mercy, forbear to injure; forgive.” We see this verb often in our prayers. Think of the responses during the litanies: “Parce nobis, Domine… Spare us, O Lord!”
O God, who manifest Your omnipotence especially by sparing and by being merciful, pour Your grace upon us unceasingly, so that You may make us, rushing to the things You have promised, to be coheirs of heavenly benefits.
OBSOLETE ICEL (1973):
Father, you show your almighty power, in your mercy and forgiveness. Continue to fill us with your gifts of love. Help us to hurry toward the eternal life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom.
CURRENT ICEL (2011):
O God, who manifest your almighty power above all by pardoning and showing mercy, bestow, we pray, your grace abundantly upon us and make those hastening to attain your promises heirs to the treasures of heaven.
We can slip into the trap of associating justice only with the exercise of power.
Today we affirm the other side of power’s coin: mercy.
Nevertheless, the affirmation of God’s mercy does not diminish God’s justice.
One of the ways God reveals Himself as “almighty” is by being forgiving and sparing.
God knows all things which ever were, are or will be, as well as how each human action impacts every other throughout history.
For God, balancing mercy and justice is no problem at all.
For us, however, this balancing act is exceedingly difficult. Our will and our limited intellect are wounded. We struggle with passions. It is hard to see what is good and right and true and then rein in our emotions. We oscillate between being just and then being merciful. Bringing the two streams of mercy and justice together in just the right way is a tremendous challenge. When we encounter a person who does this well, we are deeply impressed by him and hold him up as an example of wisdom because he seems to act more clearly as an image of God. His example moves us because we know that we too must conform to God’s image.
When I catch myself out of balance with mercy and justice, I call to mind God’s will for Jonah. God sent Jonah to Nineveh to tell them of their destruction by God in forty days. For a change, the Ninevites believed this prophet and started doing penance, such that God did not destroy them. Jonah was furious that they were not destroyed.
Let’s see that whole passage and find the flow the God’s teaching Jonah about compassion and peace in the Lord’s will. This is chapter 4:
But this [God sparing the city because they did penance] was very displeasing to Jonah, and he became angry. 2 He prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. 3 And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 5 Then Jonah went out of the city and sat down east of the city, and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, waiting to see what would become of the city.
6 The Lord God appointed a bush, [Heb kikayon varying versions, castor oil plant, and in LXX gourd vine, Jerome says “ivy”] and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. 7 But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. 8 When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
9 But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” 10 Then the Lord said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. 11 And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?”
Jonah seems to get everything wrong. He is “out of his gourd”, if we go with the Septuagint. But God tries to bring him around.
I have to add this. In the Abruzzi region of central Italy there is a tiny, amazingly well preserved jewel of a 12th c. Romanesque church, Santa Maria in Valle Porclaneta. The pulpit is magnificently carved with reliefs, including Jonah sitting under his gourd vine. God is above and the worm is below. I think it captures the prophet perfectly.
Let’s not be out of our gourds with anger because God does not punish the wicked in the way we would like him to.
One way in which we act the most according to God’s image, behaving as Christ’s good consortes, is precisely when we act with compassion.
In biblical language, such as the Hebrew racham, compassion is often interchangeable with mercy. The Latin word compassio comes from Latin cum+patior, “to suffer/endure with” someone. We are moved when we witness suffering and attendant compassion because they reveal in a mysterious way who we are as human beings and how we ought to act.
In a famous passage from the Council’s Gaudium et spes, we are taught that Christ came into the world to reveal man more fully to himself (GS 22). Christ did this in His every word and deed during His earthly life. His supreme moment of revelation to us about who we are was His Passion and death on the Cross and subsequent rising from the tomb. When we imitate His Passion, in sacrificial love and in the genuine “with suffering” which is compassion, we act as we were made by God to act. In sincere and concrete acts of compassion we, in our own turn, reveal man more fully to himself! We in turn show God’s image to our neighbor. Only the stony, cold and dead are not to be moved by examples of genuine compassion rooted in the sacrificial love which is charity.
Pope John Paul II wrote in his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis 9, that “man cannot live without love”. By this he meant both the love we give and the love we receive.
Unmerited acts of charity, mercy, and compassion make visible to our neighbor the God after whose likeness we ourselves are fashioned.
In sincere and concrete acts of compassion, in our biblical “bowels of mercy” (Colossians 3:12), we in our turn reveal man more fully to himself.
Individuals can by their example effect great changes in a society.
If one person can do much, how much more could be done by armies of men and women thirsting for holiness and righteousness (i.e., a Church), striving to act in compassion, justice and mercy?
By His justice, God will give us what we deserve.
By His mercy, He will not give us certain elements of what we deserve.
By His pouring forth graces upon us, God gives us what we do not deserve.
God’s justice must be received with joyful trepidation, whether we want it or not.
God’s mercy we must beg for with humble confidence.
God’s grace, unmerited by us, we embrace with exultant gratitude.