Quinquagesima Sunday: The Practice of Mercy

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Seventh Sunday of the Year C
1 Samuel 26:2, 7-9, 12-13, 22-23
Psalm 102: 1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
1 Corinthians 15:45-49
Luke 6:27-38

The Ten Commandments of Mercy

I counted ten commandments of mercy in today’s Holy Gospel.

1. Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you (Lk 6:27).
2. Bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Lk 6:28).
3. Give to everyone who asks of you (Lk 6:30).
4. Do to others as you would have them do to you (Lk 6:31).
5. Lend expecting nothing (Lk 6:35).
6. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Lk 6:36).
7. Judge not, and you will not be judged (Lk 6:37.
8. Condemn not, and you will not be condemned (Lk 6:37).
9. Forgive and you will be forgiven (Lk 6:37).
10. Give, and gifts will be given to you (Lk 6:38).

Ten in One and One in Ten

In Saint John’s gospel, Our Lord condenses these ten commandments of mercy into a single one, the new commandment of charity: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn 15:12).

The Crucified Draws Us to Himself

The Latin miseria means wretchedness, unhappiness, affliction, and distress. Mercy comes from the Latin misericordia, meaning the action or attitude of one who takes to heart the misery of another. To take to heart another’s misery — his or her wretchedness, unhappiness, affliction, and distress — is to surround it with compassionate love. This is, of course, what God does for us. Our Lord, revealing the mystery of his Passion, says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).

The Pierced Heart of Christ

Every wretchedness of ours, every brokenness, unhappiness, and distress entered the Heart of Jesus when the point of the soldier’s lance pierced it through. The pierced Heart of Christ is the merciful hospitality of God open to all, absorbing hatred, disarming cursing, giving gifts, and forgiving offenses. The Vespers Antiphon that opens the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has us sing: “God has loved us with an everlasting charity; therefore, lifted up from the earth, he drew us to his Heart, showing mercy.”

Showing Mercy to Christ

In the first reading we see David, a figure of the merciful Christ, sparing his enemy Saul when he could have taken vengeance. David, himself anointed by Samuel, spares Saul because Saul is the Lord’s anointed. What is this mystery if not Christ sparing Christ? When we practice the ten commandments of mercy what exactly are we doing? We are acting with the Heart of Christ to extend mercy to the vulnerable Christ, the suffering Christ, the wretched Christ. The Church becomes, in this way, the place of a ceaseless exchange of mercy: Christ showing mercy to Christ or, as Saint Augustine put, “one Christ loving himself.”

1. Love Your Enemies

Our Lord’s ten commandments of mercy are practical. They are commandments for life together. The first is incisive and clear. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Lk 6:27). It does not say, “negotiate with your enemies; discuss with those who hate you.” All too often negotiations are veiled attempts to get one’s own way, and discussion a way of proving one’s enemy wrong. If you would love your enemy, do him good.

2. Bless

The second commandment of mercy lifts the distressing situation to God in prayer. Call down the blessings of God on the one who causes you suffering, on the one who has abused you. “Pray for those who abuse you”(Lk 6:28). Here is a remedy as powerful as it is simple. A friend of mine, locked in an impasse of hatred, tried this. He prayed for one who had hurt him, and found his own heart wonderfully changed and set free from hatred’s intolerable burden.

3. Give Something

The third commandment of mercy prescribes that we give to everyone who asks. In Chapter 31 of the Holy Rule — on the cellarer of the monastery — Saint Benedict treats of this with his characteristic practical wisdom: “It is essential that he should have humility and if he has nothing material to give, he should at least offer a kind word of reply, as it is written, ‘A good word surpasses the best gift’” (RB 31:13-14).

4. As You Wish That Men Would Do to You

The fourth commandment of mercy is the famous golden rule of conduct. “As you wish that men would do to you, do so to them” (Lk 6:31). It calls not for commentary but for practice.

5. Trust

The fifth commandment of mercy is to lend expecting nothing in return. This may, at first, seem puzzling, given our own cultural context. In the Bible, to lend is a virtuous deed; it is to entrust to another something of value, something precious. Quite apart from the thing lent is the trust invested in the one to whom it is lent. Trust builds trust.

6. Indiscriminately Merciful

The sixth commandment of mercy is imitation of the Father’s mercy. God is, in a sense, indiscriminately merciful. He does not say, “This one is deserving of my mercy, this one not.” The Heart of God is magnetized by every wretchedness. No misery, no brokenness, no sin, is excluded from that place of healing that is the hospitable Heart of God.

7. Judge Not

The seventh commandment of mercy is, “Judge not and you will not be judged” (Lk 6:37). When we judge we set ourselves up as gods. We usurp something that belongs to God alone. Who but God probes the mind and heart? God alone sees every secret; God alone knows each person’s history from the first instant of life in the womb. The Fathers and Mothers of the Desert speak with one voice to say that the perfection of monastic life consists in not judging. To this seventh commandment a promise is attached: “Judge not and you will not be judged.” A magnificent promise full of hope! If you would escape the terrible judgment of God, do not judge!

8. Condemn Not

The eighth commandment of mercy is, “Condemn not, and you will not be condemned” (Lk 6:37). Condemnation follows judgement. One thinks that one knows what motivated this sister’s words, this brother’s actions. One says to oneself, “I know her. I know him. I have it all figured out.” And then, one passes to condemnation, one decrees a sentence of punishment. Condemnation twists and distorts the image of God in us; it is the refusal to show mercy.

9. Forgive

The ninth commandment of mercy is, “Forgive and you will be forgiven.” It is so simple, so powerful, so incredible, that we dare not take it seriously. This is the commandment enshrined by Jesus in his prayer to the Father, the very prayer by which we prepare ourselves for Holy Communion. This is the very principle that Saint Benedict charges the abbot with repeating morning and evening over the assembled community (cf. RB 13:12-14). He wants his monks to hear it. What if we were to begin to practice this commandment? What transformations and healings would take place!

10. Give

The tenth and last commandment of mercy is, “Give, and it will be given to you.” The quality of giving that Jesus intends us to practice is lavish. It is a giving that doesn’t stop to count, to see what is in reserve, to determine what we can reasonably afford to give. It is a giving that goes to the root of that most un-benedictine of sins: “appropriation.” Appropriation is the possessive instinct that makes us cry, “Mine!” whenever we feel threatened, whenever we sense that another may have need of something of ours. Nonsense! What is not given away is lost. What is lost in giving is given back in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

The Very Source of Mercy

These ten commandments of mercy send us to the altar where we will obey that other commandment of Christ: “Do this in memory of me” (Lk 22:19). The stream of mercy that irrigates the Church, the stream of mercy that makes of us “Christ showing mercy to Christ,” flows from the altar and carries us back to it again and again. In the Most Holy Eucharist we are given, not only this or that mercy measured to our wretchedness, but the very source of mercy itself.

2 Comments

Have mercy upon me O Lord, have upon me...and help me to remember always that the degree to which I am merciful to others...You will be merciful to me! Please remember how difficult this is for us O Lord...and be gentle and patient with us poor sinners! How long O Lord before I see You face to face!

How wonderful to hear from Father Gregory! Thank you, dear Father, for the contributions, all so wise and full of compunction.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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