Choosing Mercy
By Kathy Coffey

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy— (Matthew 5:7).

When words aren—t accompanied by actions, they lose some power. If we hear someone talking endlessly about mercy but never practicing it, we yawn and turn away. —Don—t just tell me; show me!— we protest.

To establish credibility, it is important to note how Jesus shows mercy before he ever says a word about it. When we think of how he practiced mercy throughout his life, we remember dramatic cures of desperate people: the bent woman, Jairus—s daughter, the centurion—s servant, the paralytic, the hemorrhaging woman, Peter—s mother-in-law.

But we should also remember the ordinary, day-to-day kind of mercy that he practiced as easily as breathing. It may more closely resemble the kind of mercy God showers on us. By all accounts, the disciples could be dense. Yet Jesus tolerated their stupid questions, their petty feuds, their shameful disloyalty. Only rarely did he show his annoyance: —I—ve been with you this long and you still don—t get it?—

Even more mercifully, he calls them his friends and asks them to continue his work on earth. He empowers them to preach the good news, cherish the poor and cure the sick as he did. Without a word about their miserable failings, he missions them to be his witnesses throughout the earth. And that is a copious mercy.

Perhaps the ninth Beatitude should be, —Blessed are those who live the Beatitudes, for they bring the teaching alive.— How do we learn to be merciful? Most folks would agree that with charity, they—d rather be on the giving end. It—s painful to receive, perhaps because humans so often mix condescension with charity.

But mercy—ah, that—s a different story. When we know we—ve goofed and squirm with tension awaiting the penalty, mercy comes like a cool breeze in the heat or rain after a drought. Our self-defenses and excuses crumple with relief. In a burst of good will, we vow never to do that again, never to be so stupid, never to place ourselves in such a dangerous situation.

Holding Back

And what of those who act mercifully? Here it—s harder to be on the giving end. It—s so tempting to —let —em have it,— to —teach —em a lesson they—ll never forget,— to assess the full payment. Just this once, we have our co-worker, our opponent, our spouse or our child in a position where we could demonstrate our full power to pulverize. One who has made a mistake is—quite literally——at our mercy.—

And yet, the merciful hold back. They relax into the image of a compassionate God, saying, —Let God take care of the punishment.— Or they recognize their own human limits, saying, —Maybe there—s more to this than I can see.— Or they remember how often they—ve been in a jam, when others have shown them mercy.

For centuries Christians have prayed, —Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.— And God has given us a mercy that far surpasses what we deserve, inviting us into God—s own work on earth.

God—s Unending Mercy

Each morning, we have the gift of 24 brand-new, unexplored hours. We are given health, breath and energy. God calls us to co-create the Kingdom, to nurture the next generation, to make the world more beautiful through art, music and literature. Furthermore, God gives us remarkable gifts: abilities to compute, mediate, analyze, inspire, heal, organize and teach. In a continuous flow of grace, God overlooks our worst errors and failures.

We tend to recognize God—s mercy in a disaster narrowly averted, a diagnosis of —benign— when we expected —malignant,— a sequence of events that come together to save our necks. But we live daily —under the Mercy— and can become more sensitive to its subtle manifestations. After years of praying —Kyrie eleison,” we can respond to this divine outpouring with a mercy that mirrors God—s.

If God showers us generously with the mercies of each day, we can be more tolerant of the slow co-worker, resist the urge to lambaste a careless child and show some restraint next time we—ve discovered the mistake of a friend or a relative. Then we all become richer in mercy.

Kathy Coffey is the author of many books, including Hidden Women of the Gospels, Experiencing God With Your Children and God in the Moment: Making Every Day a Prayer. A retreat and workshop leader, she lives with her husband and four children in Denver.

Next: Blessed Are the Clean of Heart

Questions for Reflection:

• Talk about a time when someone blessed you with the gift of mercy.

• What are some of the everyday mercies you have received from God?

Responses to this month's Questions for Reflection from "God in Our Midst."


Merciful Moments
By Judith Dunlap

Parents are no strangers to the corporal works of mercy. Every day we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty and clothe the naked (or at least pay for the clothes of those born naked).

And if you consider the spiritual works of mercy—instruct
the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, forgive offenses, bear wrongs patiently, comfort the afflicted and pray for the living and the dead—you will discover seven more everyday opportunities for parents to be blessed.

We practice the first spiritual work of mercy just by listening patiently to a little one as she sounds out the words in her primer. With every first-day-of-school pep talk we counsel the doubtful. We admonish the sinner when we provide Christian commentary during almost any sitcom or news report. It—s a spiritual work of mercy when you let a penitent teenager off lightly for mouthing off. And it—s an opportunity to bear wrongs patiently when an —I—m sorry— isn—t forthcoming. Parents comfort babies suffering from colic and adolescents afflicted with acne. And praying for a teenager with a license to drive is just part of a parent—s everyday routine.

Read Matthew 25:34-35, —Then the king will say to those on his right, —Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you...For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink....——

Isn—t it good to know that by providing for our children—s physical, emotional and spiritual welfare we find ourselves blessed by Jesus, and on the right side of God?

For Family Response:

Ask family members to choose one of the spiritual works of mercy and talk about how they find ways to practice it.

Responses to this month's FAMILY CORNER.


Media Watch
Ice Age
By Frank Frost

Scrat, a squirrel reminiscent of the Road Runner, provides a running gag throughout the animated film Ice Age, triggering avalanches and lightning in his pursuit of an acorn. He provides pratfalls and slapstick humor, while other characters carry the story.

Sid the sloth is a well-meaning creature with low self-esteem. Manfred the wooly mammoth is a reluctant and powerful leader hiding his loneliness behind a gruff exterior. Diego the saber-toothed tiger is a scheming killer. Each has been separated from its natural herd; all unite as an unlikely team to help return an orphaned child to its father—in effect, to its herd.

Ice Age is inevitably compared to Shrek, with Sid the sloth in the place of donkey, and Manfred the mammoth in the place of the giant Shrek. Both films pay tribute to the animation traditions that begot them and lead to predictable happy endings, but they differ in their moral. While Shrek tells us that beauty is more than skin deep, Ice Age concludes that meaning and redemption are found in community.

The Ice Age is coming, and all the animals head south with herds. (Parents of little hippos playing in tar pits are told to come along. —You can play extinction later.—)

The sloth herd slips away without waking the dim-witted, self-ingratiating Sid, leaving him to fend for himself. He attaches himself to Manfred, a determined loner. But when a dying human mother entrusts them with her baby, Sid and Manfred set out in search of the baby—s father, joined by an evil saber-toothed tiger that offers to be their tracker. Diego has been told by his leader to fetch the baby and plans to lead Manfred into a deadly trap.

Together they brave the heart of ice mountains and the fire of erupting volcanoes before the denouement.

This is not to say that Ice Age is a serious movie. It tends towards sentimentality but is full of fast-moving action in the best of the cartoon tradition. (It is rated PG due to mild peril.) A streaking slide down ice chutes at the heart of a mountain is like the ultimate theme park ride.

But the moral of the story turns on other scenes. Risking his own safety, Manfred saves Diego from a fall into hellish volcanic fires. Thanked by Diego, Manfred responds, —That—s what you do in a herd.— Later Diego returns the favor, defending Manfred and Sid, nearly at the cost of his own life. And he tells a grateful Sid, —That—s what you do in a herd.—

Loyalty to a supportive community is a message children aren—t likely to miss. There may be some additional values worth talking about, however. Tolerance of diversity is suggested, for instance, by the fact that the members of this —weirdest herd I—ve ever seen— are natural enemies, or at least not natural friends. Their loyalty derives not from birth into a common herd, but from the bonds created by common experience and interdependence.

By Judy Ball

Venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925)

Matt Talbot is considered the patron of persons wrestling with alcoholism. It was a disease he struggled with throughout his 69 years of life. Ultimately, he was victorious: He maintained sobriety for the last 41 of them.

Born in inner-city Dublin, Ireland, Matt barely completed one year of school before he took a job to help his large, working-class family. At age 12 he found a job as a messenger boy to wine merchants. The ready supply of spirits brought about his quick downfall. Within a year he was commonly drunk in public and always arrived home from work in the same state.

A job change took him away from the wine but did nothing to quench his thirst for alcohol. When concern and advice didn—t bring about change, his parents tried threats, then promises, then more threats. Nothing worked.

Nothing, that is, until one Saturday when Matt, then 28, was brushed aside by his usual drinking buddies and left standing alone outside a pub. The experience left him feeling isolated, wounded and determined never to endure such pain again. He told his mother he was ready to —take the pledge— and swear off drinking altogether. He found a priest at a nearby church, went to Confession and pledged to abstain from alcohol for three months. Later, the pledge was extended for a longer period, then for life.

Matt Talbot was a changed man. Daily Mass, long hours in prayer, rigorous fasting, quiet acts of penance and charity, spiritual reading made up his new life.

Matt Talbot died on his way to 10 o—clock Mass on Trinity Sunday morning. He was declared Venerable in 1973, a step on the way to canonization.

Bob Ketelsen

Some people work all their lives and never find their niche. Some people never even look for it.

Bob Ketelsen is not to be confused with such people.

Three years ago when it came time to retire from the travel agency he owned outside Chicago, he quickly realized he wanted—even needed—a new and worthwhile challenge. He agreed to offer his volunteer services for three weeks at St. Mary—s Mission on the Navajo Reservation in Tohatchi, New Mexico. Today he is manager at the mission, which offers a residential recovery center for homeless men struggling with substance abuse. It also offers non-residential services to women.

—I—ve found my bliss,— says Bob, who sees his retirement years as —payback time— for all the good in his life. He himself has been in recovery for more than a decade. He fully appreciates the force and intensity of the struggles facing the Native Americans who find support and encouragement at the facility located in a converted friary on the mission grounds. —That—s why we—re here,— he told Every Day Catholic. —We—ve been there [as alcoholics]. We know the hopelessness.—

Sometimes the house is at capacity; other times, empty—except for Bob, who lives there and keeps himself available. Twelve-step meetings are held twice weekly, retreats twice yearly. When the time is right, Bob is there to help with the next step, whether it—s giving a ride to a job interview, helping someone work out plans to return to school or facilitating a family reunion.

The goal is to help guests learn how to live without the need for alcohol. Bob Ketelsen knows it can be done.

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)
"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)


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