Unlike that of humans, God’s judgment, we are taught, is equal to His mercy. This is one reason that we refrain from judging the neighbors we serve; our judgments, sometimes harsh, can cloud our vision, and limit our charity. Mercy, on the other hand, is indispensable to charity.
St. Thomas Aquinas went so far as to say that the “sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy” in our actions. It is an outward expression of our internal love of God. In other words, mercy unites us externally with the neighbor just as charity unites us internally with God. [Summa, II:II:30:4]
What, then, is mercy? The Latin word for mercy, misericordia, literally means a miserable heart, which captures the emotional and passionate nature of mercy. When we see the suffering of another and we are moved to sadness ourselves – we can’t help it. We are all connected. Vincent went so far as to say that “to see our brother suffering without weeping with him, without being sick with him [is] to be lacking in charity; it’s being a caricature of a Christian; it’s inhuman…” [CCD XII:222] Mercy, again, is indispensable to charity.
Recall, also, that Jesus calls us to mercy, not to judgment. To those who criticized Him for associating with tax collectors and sinners, he replied “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He warned us that we would be judged in the same manner by which we judge others.
The English word mercy has its root in the Latin mercēs, meaning wages, which perhaps suggests new way to understand mercy – and a new way to practice it. Wages, after all, are what is owed to another, and to give to another what he is owed is an act not of charity but of justice.
This is exactly what Vincent taught, praying that God would “[soften] our hearts toward the wretched creatures” so that we might realize “that in helping them we are doing an act of justice and not of mercy.” [CCD VII:115]
The wages of sin is death, but because God’s judgment is equal to His mercy, the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. He grants us the grace of His unlimited mercy, like all His gifts, only so that we might share it. If this is so, then it is through sharing God’s mercy that we also share His justice.
The wages of sin, in other words, may be death, but the wages of love is mercy.
Do I sometimes let my human judgment cloud the grace of God’s mercy?