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Blessed are the merciful
Stories Seldom Heard
Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy
Recently a friend of mine was standing in an unusually long and slow-moving line at the local pharmacy. An older woman, perhaps not poor, but very simply dressed, was at the “Pick Up Prescription” counter counting her money in order to pay for her medication. My friend couldn’t hear the whole conversation between the pharmacist and the woman, but it seemed as though the woman did not have enough money to pay for her medications. The pharmacist was very courteous, but she had to ask the woman to come back when she had enough money. The pharmacist then helped the woman separate the dollar bills from the coins and she put them into different zip locked bags.
It was all done surreptitiously, but since my friend Rose was next in line she observed the transaction. The number of bills the pharmacist put into the plastic bag looked as though the prescription must have been over $200. It was also obvious that the woman would have to leave without her medication. Even though Rose felt a little self-conscious, she stepped forward and offered to pay the difference. “It was only $15,” Rose said. “My only hesitation was that I didn’t want to embarrass the woman.” Rose said the woman never looked her in the eye or said a word, but she turned to Rose and bowed her head and shoulders reverently as she left with her prescription.
When Rose got to the counter to pick up her medication, the pharmacist thanked Rose for her generosity. Rose’s response was, “Well, if the woman were my mother, I hope someone would do the same for her.” What Rose did was certainly generous, but in my conversation with Rose she was grateful for not missing an opportunity to help someone in need. Rose said, “I have a job. I don’t make a lot of money, but I have what I need and more. I wish I could do more for people who need help. For me the woman was a gift. She gave me the opportunity to give something to someone I didn’t know with no expectations of reward or praise. Isn’t that what we are to do every day?”
I’m a great believer in the sacrament of the present moment. To be aware of the sacramental moments in our lives we need to be attentive. Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us that, “Christ plays in ten thousand places, lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not his.” (1) But it is easy to miss those limbs and eyes especially when we are waiting in a line. Yet, Rose was aware of those around her and like Jesus she too noticed a woman in need. Rose didn’t ask the woman if she had a green card, what religion she practiced or what her ethnicity was. Instead Rose responded as a disciple of Jesus. She didn’t consider her gift to the woman as charity, but as Rose said, “I helped the woman because it was the just thing to do.”
Rose has a good understanding of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Giving to others who are in need is not an optional practice for Catholics. We give because we have empathy and because we truly care. St. Vincent de Paul warned his followers and us too, of a false sense of charity. He says, “You will find out that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than a bowl of soup and the full basket…. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.” Giving to those in need without truly caring about them will eventually harden our hearts. But when we give out of love, our hearts begin to understand the connection between justice and mercy. In the Hebrew language justice, compassion and empathy are rooted in mercy.
When we know another person’s story, when we can see life from that person’s perspective, our attitudes and prejudices begin to change. Perhaps that’s why God’s mercy towards us is so complete. God knows each of us intimately and God’s unwavering mercy towards us is total. We hear this echoed throughout the scriptures.
“Remember your mercy, oh God, your love that you showed long ago” (Psalm 25:6).
“God is tender and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in mercy” (Psalm 103:6).
“The mercy of God is everlasting” (Psalm 103:17).
Jesus’ life and actions are driven by mercy and compassion. He fed the hungry, cured the sick and gave sight to the blind. He opened the doors of his heart to Zacchaeus who went out on a limb to see Jesus. Jesus was present to people at dinner parties and large crowds at the seashore and on hillsides. Often in these circumstances the gospels say that Jesus was moved with pity which in Hebrew doesn’t mean a passing sadness. Rather “pity” indicates a deep feeling of distress at the core of one’s being.
God’s nature is to be merciful. When we think of creation, its wonders and mysteries, we are overwhelmed with a sense of God’s generosity and mercy. If God can do all of this for us can we not give back a small amount to our sisters and brothers who do not have the spiritual and physical resources, we have? We didn’t earn what we have. It is all gift: our health, our lives, our families, our talents, our privileges, our universe.
It’s a grace to see our lives and the world around us through this lens of gratitude, but when we do, our whole world view changes. God does not ask for sacrifice but for a heart that is kind and merciful. When we can embody gratitude for everything and in turn be merciful to others we will be walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Thich Nhat Hanh has a poetic way of reminding us of the importance of seeing life from this vantage point. “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or on air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child – our own two eyes. All is miracle.” (2)
Many times in scripture Jesus reminds us that we are to do what he did. When he saw the hunger of those who had traveled with him to a remote place, he said to his disciples who were wondering how the crowd was going to be fed, “Give them something to eat yourselves (Mt. 14:17).” When he speaks of the last judgment he reminds us that whatever we do to the least important members of society we do to him. The more merciful we are, the more we reflect the God who created us since God is mercy. The more merciful we are the more our society will be able to reflect the presence of God here on earth. God’s kingdom is a “kindom” where all are treated with dignity, where strangers are welcomed and the hungry are fed.
It might be helpful to remember an occasion when we experienced mercy. What did it feel like? How would we describe it? Is there someone in our lives now to whom we need to show mercy? These reflections might encourage planned or spontaneous acts of mercy. Since Ash Wednesday is around the corner, we might create a Lenten Journal to write what we have discovered about mercy in ourselves and our companions. We might identify places or groups of people who need to be treated with respect and dignity. In prayer and conversation with other people of good will, you might find ways to respond to their needs. Who knows what wonders our prayers and conversations might bring? Who knows what responses might be possible?
1.“As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
2.Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation.
“Stories Seldom Heard” is a monthly article written by Sister Patricia Bruno, O.P. Sister is a Dominican Sister of San Rafael, California. This service is offered to the Christian community to enrich one’s personal and spiritual life. The articles can be used for individual or group reflection.