We Must Embrace Mercy To Have Mercy

We Must Embrace Mercy To Have Mercy March 24, 2023

Firkin: Mercy / Openclipart

We must never forget mercy. Without mercy, life would be unbearable. We all make so many mistakes, so many slip-ups, each and every day. Without mercy, even our most minor mistake would cause us great grief, but with mercy, we know that even  our worst, most terrible mistakes, can be forgiven. There is no need for despair. Mercy is there for us. But to have it, we must embrace it. We must embrace mercy, not only by accepting it for ourselves but by offering it to others. For only if we give it to others do we truly embrace it, and then, having embraced it, we will be able to receive its benefits for ourselves. Thus, the more merciful we are to others, the more we embrace mercy, and so the more mercy we can and will receive mercy ourselves, not because we deserve it, but because by acting with mercy, we embrace mercy, uniting ourselves with it. Thus, St. Hildegard explained:

For God is always merciful and lenient to that person who imitates Him in mercy, for the holy and the elect, the poor and the weak, all are in need of mercy, since not one of them can live in this life without sin.[1]

If we are not merciful, we have not embraced mercy, and if we have not embraced mercy, we will not be able to partake of all its benefits. And yet, the greatest benefit it gives is the grace which comes with it, grace which not only offers us forgiveness, but transforms us, making it so that we become more and more like God. As God is merciful, so we will become more and more merciful, and in this respect, a sign of our deification will be the mercy we share with others. True holiness cannot be found without it. When we embrace a will to power and control instead of mercy, we circumvent our own holiness. Indeed, we darken or cover the image of God within us, and as such, when we reject mercy and the path it promotes, while trying to claim we represent God, we end up being blasphemous. The more we treat others without mercy, the more we will let our pride get the best of us. The more we let our pride get the best of us, the more we will need the very mercy which we deny others. It is a common problem in humanity, to be sure, but especially common with those beholden to riches, for they think their riches prove that they are superior to all others, and so they use their riches for their own benefit, without care or concern for the poor and needy, indeed, often desiring to use their resources to take from the poor what little they have, showing the depravity which follows from avarice. Thus, St. Hildegard specifically indicated the way pride in riches leads to blasphemy, the kind which can be said to be associated with the lack of mercy:

Through the pride of his riches the rich man rules over other men, whom he can harm, and treats them badly, just as if they were not fellow creatures, and in this way the good name of mankind (that man is the image and likeness of God [cf. Gen 1.26]) is blasphemed. [2]

It is not only those who have money who will hinder their own spiritual transformation and development in this fashion, those who find themselves in positions of authority and use it solely for their own benefit, unconcerned about those they are meant to govern, suffer the same spiritual hindrance. When they have to make judgment calls, they should consider and work for the good of others, not themselves, and especially the good of those they are meant to oversee by their authority.  They must embrace mercy, for by doing so, they will demonstrate the good will which lies behind their decisions. They will be shown to be far more trustworthy than others in similar positions of power, because their words and deeds show the love and care which should be had by those elevated to some position of authority. And so mercy provides, as St. Hildegard said, a maternal sweetness which is needed for those who are granted positions of authority:

Just so, if superiors use harsh words to their subordinates, they do not build them up, but lead them instead into error. For a superior must sift the words of his teachings with maternal sweetness so that his subordinates will gladly open their mouths and swallow them.[3]

This is why those who embrace a legalistic, and not a pastoral approach, to others, will not be able to do a great deal of good. A legalistic approach, one which is quick to condemning others, will only push people further away from the good they should be doing. And since legalism knows nothing about mercy, the one who is legalistic will find themselves that much further from the good themselves. They will be closing themselves off from the mercy and grace they need because they will be trying to close it off from others. Embracing mercy does not mean wrongdoers will not have to face the consequences of their actions; rather, it is what allows them to do so, to be transformed so that they do not have to be defined by such actions. And that is what we should want, not to be defined by our failures, by our bad actions; instead, we should want to be defined by the image and likeness of God within us, the image which is of love, an image which includes mercy. The more we embrace mercy, the more like God we will truly become, and the more we are like God, the more we can find ourselves united with God and share in the divine life, which is exactly what God wants for us all.

[1] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 307” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume III. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 107.

[2] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 378” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume III. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 165.

[3] St. Hildegard of Bingen, “Letter 155r” in The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen. Volume II. Trans. Joseph L Baird and Radd K Ehrman (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 100.


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