by Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins
Archbishop of Lagos State

Mercy is an amazing attribute of God that makes His love visible and His compassion tangible. It is the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sins. Like a running spring, God’s mercy never runs dry, no matter how many people draw from it. Every time someone is in need, he or she can approach it, because just as God never comes to an end, so also, His mercy never ends (MisericordiaeVultus, 25). Psalm 136 repeats it like a litany; “for his mercy endure for ever (Ps 136).”

In the Bible the word mercy (hesed) has two fundamental connotations. The first indicates the attitude of the stronger party towards the weaker party and is usually expressed by forgiveness of sins and moral infidelity. This is evident in the relationship between God and the Israelites. He revealed himself to Moses as “a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex 34:6).” The second meaning indicates the attitude of compassion toward the poor and the needy as expressed in the works of charity for the Lord indeed hears the cry of the poor (Job 34:28)

The two meanings are captured in the Latin equivalent for mercy, Misericordia, which comes from misereo and cor, and is translated as “having one’s heart moved by pity or moved emotionally, with regard to the suffering or failings of a brother or a sister.” When people go astray spiritually or suffer as result of lack, God’s heart is moved with pity and his hand comes to their rescue. He says to prophet Hosea, “my heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred (Hosea 11:8).” There is therefore, so to speak, a mercy of the heart and a mercy of the hand. While the mercy of the heart calls us to repentance and forgiveness, mercy of the hand calls us to compassion and charity.

In the life of Jesus both forms of mercy shine forth. His words and deeds show that mercy is not just a temporal emotion which moves the heart and stops at that point but rather something concrete that entails actions and involves commitment to the other person. In the parable of the prodigal son, the father did not stop at his emotions – his heart was moved but he runs towards his sons, embraces him, restores his original dignity, and in the full extent of its benefits prepares for him a grand banquet. Similarly, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus demonstrates the merciful heart of the God who not only feels compassion for the wounded man but takes concrete steps to restore him to health. He bandages his wounds, lifts him up onto his horse, takes him to the inn and pays his medical bills.

The evangelist Matthew takes this theme up and gives it a social dimension with a promise of eternal rewards in what the Church now calls Corporal Works of Mercy. They are: 1. feed the hungry 2. Give drink to the thirsty 3. Clothe the naked 4. Shelter the homeless 5. Visit the imprisoned 6. Care for the sick 7. Bury the dead. Included into this category are the Spiritual Works of Mercy, namely; 1. Admonish the sinner 2. Instruct the ignorant 3. Advise the perplexed 4. Comfort the unhappy 5. Bear wrongs patiently 6. Forgive all injuries 7. Pray for the living and the dead.

The Church is commissioned to announce the mercy of God with enthusiasm and renewed pastoral action. Wherever the Church is present the mercy of the father must be evident. Our language, gestures and actions must transmit mercy so as to touch the hearts of all people and inspire them once more to find the road that leads to the Father. In our individual lives, families, parishes, communities, associations and organizations, let us be missionaries of mercies, helping everyone find an oasis of mercy (MV, 12).  This can easily be realized when we carry out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the Year of Mercy is upon us with an invitation to experience the inexhaustible fountain of God’s mercy and enter into a personal relationship with the God who never tires of forgiving us. In order to take full advantage of this propitious moment of grace, reconciliation and charity, we need both the mercy of the heart and the mercy of the hand.  The corporal and spiritual works of mercy put before us a wide range of possible ways of practicing both the “Mercy of the Heart” and “Mercy of the Hand.”

Jesus ended the Parable of the Samaritan with the charge: “Go and do likewise” (Lk. 10:37). In keeping with this injunction of the Lord, let us dispose ourselves as beneficiaries of God’s mercy; to become channels through which His mercy can flow to others by being ‘merciful like our heavenly Father (Lk. 6:36).