The year of mercy has had a unique flavor for me in numerous ways. I have experienced God's mercy beyond what I could have ever asked for, and I have had various opportunities to show God's mercy to others. All of these have helped me to be more thankful for the blessings that I have. The scripture says "blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy". It can go the other way as well, "blessed are those who have obtained mercy, for they shall be merciful".
Mercy creates mercy. Meaning, of course, that mercy is contagious; like love, it encourages those who experience it to repeat the experience for others. Yet, I have heard some people who had a faulty understanding of mercy. As I have written before, not everything that is called mercy, is actually mercy. Mercy is not mere kindness or niceness. Mercy is a much deeper action than simply being nice to another person. If I smile at a stranger, I am being nice, it does not necessarily mean that I am being merciful to that person at the same time.
One way to distinguish mercy is to ask what it is not. We all know that mercy and justice are not the same thing. The problem with this acknowledgement is, however, that we can easily slip into thinking that anything which is not justice is automatically mercy. That would be a grave error. Many of the things that are not truly "justice" are actually injustices. It is not justice for a criminal to avoid prosecution and walk the streets endangering other people.
For another example: it is not merciful to neglect to tell someone their sin; rather this is an injustice. To hide sin from another person is comparable to hiding the fact that someone is drinking poison; doing so is the same as encouraging them in the action. I once heard someone confront another person about a sinful action and the individual's response was "what ever happened to mercy?" If we do not help another person who is in sin when we are able to do so, we are thereby leaving them to suffer the consequences of their actions. Although many people neglect this very duty every day, it should not be so among us. Wrong understandings of mercy is one more "dragon" that we need to slay.
As we are coming to the close of the year of mercy, let us first ask whether we understand correctly what mercy actually is. Then, let us each ask ourselves "have I been merciful this year?" Do a healthy examination of conscience as you consider each of the works of mercy, and ask yourself "have I become a more merciful person during the past year?"
The corporal works of mercy are:
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy are:
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
Sometimes it may be hard to show mercy to another person, especially if that person is someone that we do not think deserves mercy. Yet, we must ask: "do any of us really deserve mercy?" In spite of this, God has shown each of us mercy beyond what any of us truly deserve (that is the point of mercy after all!). Having a right understanding of mercy is crucial, but then we need to bring it to bear and engage in genuine acts of mercy. Once again: "blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy".