Now with 20% Less Mercy

John J McNeill – in need of a corrective.

JMJ

The Readings for Saturday in the 6th Week of Easter:

Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.

Took him aside and explained… we nearly never do that these days. We go looking for “constructive feedback” or at worst something called a “Sh*t Sandwich” which is bad stuff sandwiched between two bits of praise. We get offended not only when people tell us we’re wrong but also when people imply that we are wrong, even when people hint there might be a right way (that’s not the way we did it). 

Telling someone they’re mistaken and bringing them to the truth of the fullness of the faith is 3 of the 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy, and 3 of the 17 Works of Mercy all together, about 20 percent of all mercy is showing someone their missteps. 

Of the Works of Mercy we have:
  1. To instruct the ignorant.
  2. To counsel the doubtful.
  3. To admonish the sinners.
  4. To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  5. To forgive offenses.
  6. To comfort the afflicted.
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.
  8. To feed the hungry.
  9. To give water to the thirsty.
  10. To clothe the naked.
  11. To shelter the homeless.
  12. To visit the sick.
  13. To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  14. To bury the dead.
The second 7 are seen as “Corporal” in that they deal with the body, whilst the first batch are the “Spiritual” works of mercy. It does us no good to pit them against each other; to decide one is more important than the other. The body and the soul are, together, one being. The corporal may be seen as easier, or the spiritual as more important, but that’s not the case. It’s a matter of qualifications: I can dig graves, but I am terrible at bearing patiently with those who wrong me. I might not be the right person to lead a retreat on forgiveness. Praying for the dead, though, I’m good at. And, to be honest, 25 years in customer service has totally prepped me for finding a compassionate, gentle way to say, “You’re so very wrong, Bucko.” Such as: 

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It has also prepped me for pulling out all the stops and saying, “I know you’re looking for a different answer here, but I have to tell you again, you’re very wrong, Bucko.”

As Bishop Barron has noted, while we’re very willing to let someone tell us how best to play golf, or make a pumpkin muffin, we seem to be horribly unwilling to let someone tell us that in matters of religion. We go looking for agreement in the first person: You might say that, but I can’t agree with what you’re saying. It’s not merciful to let that person off the hook. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite of mercy. Letting someone give up their soul because you feel uncomfortable correcting them (or because they feel uncomfortable if you do so) is decidedly not merciful. Parents fail in this all the time.

But we also fail in other ways: Priscilla took Apollos aside. They didn’t open up a series of Facebook Posts or a long tweetstorm. They did not engage in those wonderful, modern practices: a whisper campaign or character assassination. Elsewhere we are advised to talk to someone in error one on one, then, failing that, maybe two on one. If that fails, we might even try a larger intervention. If all else fails, then we can ignore them and allow them to go their own way.

We like to come on strong because it makes us feel good to do so: self-righteous may be too uncharitable, but there’s something enjoyable about pitching corrective so fast and so furious that the party ducks and runs for cover. We did our best, right? but the wouldn’t listen, eh?  So… next project.

This is not mercy either. It’s mercy if we gain our brother back. Yet if we drive them away, we’re both lost.

We are surrounded on all sides, both inside and outside of the church, with those who are perishing for lack of mercy. How do we do mercy in the way that Priscilla and Aquilla did? Can we gently offer correctives without losing the souls of those we’re trying to save; without, as a friend of mine used to say, “Shattering the Crystal”?

To bestow mercy we must first be “under the mercy” ourselves. Are you? Am I? Do we submit – daily – to the Church’s teaching even (especially) when we find it at odds with our life experience and desires? How’s our prayer lives? Are we engaged in a living and regular (ongoing) conversation with God? Do we exercise ourselves daily in charity and humility? Can we say the truth in ways that do not sound like “look what I found” but rather reflect the Church’s magisterium and God’s love?

We need to know each our own strengths and weaknesses so that we don’t overstep our own callings. Let me bury the dead. Someone else can take on apologetics or forgiving others. Right? None of us need to preach alone or at all for we’re all in this together let’s pool our resources and see what we can do. Let’s be 100% merciful 100% of the time. 




Author: Huw Richardson

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He has worked in tech (mostly) since 1999 and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.