Thursday, January 30, 2014

of Mercy

A few days ago, i received this as a thought accompanying a daily biblical quotation, from some sisters near Boston College. I don't know how they started appearing but they did.
     How can one ask for mercy
    when one refuses to give to another;
    If we expect to receive mercy, we should give mercy.

    --St. Caesarius of Arles, 6th century
For many, a famous and  memorable utterance on mercy comes from William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Portia speaks to Shylock in Act IV, scene i:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.
'Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway;
It is enthroned in the heart of kings;
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.
Now, Shakespeare was Catholic and very well versed on the theology. There are seven corporal (bodily) works of mercy. Six are presented together in Matthew's quotation of Jesus’ Judgement of the Nations:
For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me.
The seventh is to bury the dead, which is repeatedly mentioned in the Book of Tobit. Tuesday, i attended a Funeral Mass. The Gospel reading was Jesus' Judgement of the Nations. The man was very active in charitable works, he acted as the giving Christian. He worked with feeding the hungry and homeless, at the parish* and Public Square. He joined in peace groups, and anti-death penalty vigils. He volunteered for his high school as a tutor, and on the phone banks.

On Wednesday, i went to breakfast with a friend.  There was a big pickup truck in the lot with hand lettered signs, one was a statement saying as a vet he did not fight for ‘illegal immigrants’.  A few days earlier, i had watched an early episode (Smoke Screen) [John Kennedy was president] of the The Fugitive. While working as an agricultural harvester amongst mostly Mexicans near San Diego, he was suspected of being an undercover police agent, and was badly treated therefore. The laborers were then impressed into forest fire service, and the fires were engulfing. As the story turned out, one of the ‘illegals’ had a pregnant wife. They came expressively to have the child born in the US. As a surgeon he was needed, but the story became picked up by the press, and his pursuivant, Lieutenant Gerard was informed. Richard Kimble (here Joseph Walker) and the braceros change the story to hide Kimble. The local sheriff phones Gerard, and says the ‘doctor’ was a Mexican vet. Gerard at the end of the episode, then wipes the tracking path, of grease pencil off his glass outline map, of his pursuit. 

The Fugitive is a television series that would not be produced to-day. There are a myriad of series on more networks than i know where crime is celebrated, or far, far, more often the relentless successful prosecution of people. David Janssen was innocent, but on the run, he was a ‘fugitive’ from justice; but wherever he went, he did good deeds. He was a saint. He had mercy for others, while the law was merciless towards him.

Saint Faustina Kowalska was a twentieth century visionary. She gave the world the Devotion to the Divine Mercy of Jesus. In her Diary, she wrote the words Jesus said to her. In one passage, Jesus says:
Proclaim that mercy is the greatest attribute of God.
Canonised saints are not the only people with understanding of the nature of Jesus.  The comic satirist and Catholic catechist, Stephen Colbert, spoke on Jesus and Our Christian Nation:
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition. And then admit that we just don’t want to do it.
*The last time, i had been inside that parish church, was the day of Bishop Richard Gerard Lennon's Mass of  Eviction. Jim had worked there, and his newly assigned parish, and then back again at his parish. The parish is a community that has hold on its members. It is an extended family. It is the basic christian unit.

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