What Does it Mean to “Show Mercy”?

“Set mercy phasers on ‘stun’!”

We discussed mercy on More2Life Radio today.  I would venture to guess that most people think that “being merciful” is synonymous with “letting someone off the hook.”  Honestly, though, I really don’t see how this can be true.  In order to be merciful, mercy must be just (and in order to be just, jutice must be merciful) so it’s hard to imagine how not giving someone an opportunity to learn and grow from their mistakes/offenses would be merciful.  Even in the parable of the unmerciful servant, the King didn’t forgive the servant’s debt so much as place a new debt on him; to be as merciful to others as the king was to him.  In fact, when the servant failed to pay that new debt (“paying mercy forward” as it were), the king had the man thrown in prison until he could pay the old debt.  No one was let off the hook in this story.

I think mercy is a genuinely stunning experience.   True mercy is actually off-putting because it allows us to feel loved and challenged to grow at the same time.   While there is a sense of the word mercy that means, “alleviating the suffering of another person,” alleviating suffering usually involved taking one’s medicine or going through treatment.  That’s even true of confession.  It’s true, for instance, that Pope Francis has pointed out that God never tires of forgiving us, but even so, that forgiveness comes with the price of resolving to not commit the offense again (even if we ultimately fail in our efforts) and our willingness to do at least some kind of penance.    But look at the nature of the penance.  Those 5 Hail Mary penances aren’t punishment.  They are intended to be the time we sit in Our Mother, The Church’s, lap, in the presence of our Heavenly Father so that we can be showered with a love so great that it makes us never want to leave home again.

I would argue that from the Church’s example, we can conclude tha mercy is the virtue that allows us to address offenses in a manner that is mindful of the larger relationship and invites the offender into a deeper  relationship with the offended.  Obviously, that’s going to require some work.  The point is not that mercy lets people get away with an offense.  It’s that true mercy allows the addressing of the offense to be an opportunity for greater healing and unity by calling the person out in a way that makes both of you more whole.

Who, in your life, is it hardest for you to be merciful to…and why?

–Need help figuring out what it means to address offenses between you and another person in a manner that leads to a deeper/healthier relationship (i.e., be authentically merciful)?  Check out God Help Me, These People are Driving Me Nuts!   Making Peace with Difficult People.

About Dr. Greg

Dr. Gregory Popcak directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to marriage, family, and personal problems. Together with his wife, Lisa, he hosts More2Life Radio. He is the author of over a dozen books integrating psychological insights with our Catholic faith. For more info about books, tele-counseling and other resources, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com.


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