IN OUR MIDST
By Kathy Coffey
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy—
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
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
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.
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
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:
of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October
products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan
from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer
Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking
Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book)
on the Mount" (audiocassette)
Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)