By Brother Mark Jenkins (St. John’s)
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7 - NRSV)
As I began to ponder this thing called mercy two important female presences were involved. First the Holy Spirit who I turned to in prayer for inspiration, the only thing I got there was “start with love”. Then there was Torrence, “Don’t get theological on us.” I’m left thinking, now what am I going to do?
Of course, we are all familiar with the traditional version of the beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In my research I came across modern beatitudes proposed by Pope Francis on his 2016 trip he says for mercy "Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others.” When put this way, I was better able to relate.
When we think of works of mercy, we often think of it as helping those who are materialistically poor. Yet if we look closely at the Beatitudes, we see a whole list of different forms of poverty, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who search for righteousness and the persecuted.
Now to bring it down to personal level. In my life time I have experienced all of poverty listed above. Sometimes one at a time, many times all the above at one time. Having spent a significant portion of my life battling debilitating depression and addiction, if it had not been for those who started with love and reached out to me in mercy, I would not be writing this reflection today. When we start with love and reach out with mercy it can make the difference between life and death.
So how do I practice works of mercy in my own life. First, in continually understanding that God loves me unconditionally and then through God’s Mercy working on me that I come to a place of loving myself. If I am not able to love myself then I can’t start with love. You my faith community reflect God’s love for me. Then when what I have come to believe is one of the most important parts of our Sunday service occurs, the part where Torrence kicks us out (the dismissal). I am able and equipped to go out into the world starting with love to reach out with mercy.
The founder of the Franciscans, St. Francis of Assisi had a simple method of practicing love and mercy. He was adamant with the brothers that they not go out in to the world and beat people over the head with God. But be present in the world, be accessible and friends with the people. He even went as far as to instruct the brothers to work in people’s kitchens, help them in their gardens and with their crops. I start by following this simple instruction, just being present to people in simple ways, like being a familiar face in the local grocery store and yes even working in their gardens leading up to Historic Garden week. It is there that I have started with love and reached out to those who are poor.