September 28, 2011

Being Merciful and the Holy Spirit

The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are understood in many beautiful and wonderful ways. For example, the gift of counsel has been understood to identify a movement of heart that gives a knowing certitude about what to do in a difficult situation. St. Thomas Aquinas sees a relationship between this gift of counsel and the beatitude declared by Christ "Blessed are the merciful, they shall receive mercy" (see ST II-II, q.52, a.4) One of the petitions of the Lord's Prayer also comes to mind on this point, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." What is the relationship between the prompting of the Holy Spirit  and the blessedness realized in being merciful?


To say that someone is merciful (misericordia) indicates one's heart has been pierced by the plight of another. It is an intimate and personal moment which reaches for the restoration of dignity in the one who suffers.  It is a sharing in one's own heart the misery suffered by someone in some way entrusted to us.  To affirm the dignity of another, I need to be able to enter into that person's heart with something that will address the misery, that thirst for love.   Otherwise, my act of mercy can only be an external kindness which never really addresses the actual plight of the person God has brought to me at this moment.

Only the Lord has the power and authority to enter the heart of another.  He created the heart - each heart - and so He is the only one who knows the way.   He is the Living Water which alone quenches the soul that thirsts for love.   If He stands at the door and knocks, entering the heart is what He won the right to do by his death on the Cross.   He who is Pure Love vanquished the powers of death and hell, piercing the heart of humanity because He allowed us, our misery, to pierce Him.  In this way, He suffered the misery and meaninglessness of each of us on the Cross. Because He yearns that we be restored to our dignity and that we be free of such burdens, with this power He is always knocking, He is always seeking the lost sheep, always running off to meet his lost son no matter how far away, always trying to bandage the neighbor He finds beat up on the side of the road. And we who are joined to Him by faith and members of his mystical body are the instruments through whom He works for this great purpose.

The gift of counsel and being merciful intersect before the plight of the neighbor God entrusts to me. When the Lord brings us a neighbor who is suffering, He also sends us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit prompts us with divine power and authority so that we might be an icon of Christ, so that the mystery of Christ might be extended to this suffering heart in this present moment, so that the Lord might deliver this particular loved one, neighbor, stranger or even enemy from the hell in which they are engulfed.

Indeed, the most dangerous of all moments is to stand before the suffering of another and to be paralyzed by our own indifference. It is a danger to our own humanity, a temptation to become inhumane. St. Thomas and other authoritative voices from our tradition seem to have understood that the Holy Spirit will not allow this to happen if we are open to his subtle movements in our hearts. Even when circumstances are so surprising and overwhelming that it is difficult to develop a good plan, the Holy Spirit gives us enough understanding and certitude about how to be merciful in such moments that we can act. With whatever effort we make, even if only feeble and reluctant, the power of Christ's salvific work not only opens up the possibility of being holy ourselves in ever new ways, but also gushes forth through us to refresh all those thirsting for living waters. How much more Christ can do when we act with the boldness of the sons and daughters of God!