Blessed are the Merciful
The ‘Lord of the Rings’ has inspired me yet again! This is the great beauty of reading literature written by people with a great love of God in their hearts: their work invariably bears His mark, His goodness, His truth, even though He might not be explicitly mentioned! For instance, in one of the prequels to ‘The Lord of the Rings’, we hear the story of how Bilbo accidentally comes to possess the ring to the great dismay and horror of its previous owner, Gollum. Though the ring has utterly devastated Gollum over the course of centuries, has utterly robbed him of fullness of life and love, he still craves and adores it.
A key moment in relation to mercy arises here. Bilbo suddenly has the opportunity to kill Gollum, yet he refrains: ‘A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering.’ Instead of seeing all the horrible menacing aspects of Gollum (of which there were many) and judging him harshly, Bilbo instead surveys him with mercy. Later, Gandalf – the wise wizard of the trilogy – was to remark, ‘It was Pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy: not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the ring so. With Pity.’
After the fall of Adam and Eve, when all humanity became prisoners to sin, God must have looked upon us in much the same way as Bilbo looked upon Gollum – because without His intervention, we would still be living ‘endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment’. Truth is, if Jesus never became man or died on the cross for us, we would have absolutely no hope of heaven – even if we had lived most incredibly virtuous lives: ‘For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom 6:23). Eternal life was a gift won for us by Jesus, an incredible gesture of His mercy. He bore the penalty of sin for us – all the sins of the entire world, past present and future – so that heaven’s doors would be opened for us once more. We have hope because He chose to look upon us with mercy. Now He wants us to have a merciful gaze too, promising us great blessedness if we pay heed: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7). This is the fifth Beatitude.
Looking with mercy upon another – and acting accordingly – can be immensely challenging for us, especially when it concerns people who hurt, irritate or anger us. At present, it seems as though people are more inclined to respond with anger than mercy – and nowhere perhaps is this more evident than on social media – even among fellow Catholics. Yet, in the words of Pope Francis, ‘Mercy is the very heart of God!’ He also explains that if we are truly growing in intimacy with God – and thereby growing in His likeness – a clear fruit will be a growth in our mercy towards others: ‘If all our Christianity does not lead us to mercy, then we have taken the wrong path because mercy is the only true destination of all spiritual journeys.’
What is mercy? It is looking upon another with the eyes of Christ. It is a solid gesture of love, where we seek to cater for our neighbour’s physical and spiritual needs – even when they are not deserving of it, even when they have hurt or wounded us. It is being patient with the weaknesses of others, knowing that we have many ourselves and need endless patience ourselves. It is choosing to forgive. It is advising, consoling and comforting others. It is feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, burying the dead. Mercy therefore takes many forms, yet ultimately it is rooted in love. How do we best grow in it? By cooperating with the grace of God poured out to us in the sacraments and in a life of prayer.
Truth is, we have all likely encountered a ‘Gollum’ of some description – and are likely to encounter many as we journey towards heaven. Throughout the trilogy, Gollum attracts great derision and disgust, yet when kindness and mercy is extended to him it draws his inner goodness out – at least for a time. Sometimes, too, we will be like Gollum to another! If we are treated – and looked upon – with mercy, it draws us into the love of the Father, who IS mercy. In the words of Pope Francis: ‘God’s mercy is our liberation and our happiness. We live of mercy and cannot afford to be without mercy. We are too poor to set any conditions. We need to forgive because we need to be forgiven.’ Mercy – as Pope Francis puts it – is the ‘air we breathe’: we can only truly give it when we truly recognise our need for it ourselves.
Bilbo, additionally, was blessed because of his act of mercy. In fact, the fruit of it extended far beyond him. Same with us: Even the smallest glimmer of mercy we show could have untold beautiful consequences – we may not perceive them now, but one day all will be revealed in the glory of heaven.
May our hearts overflow with Your mercy,
So that by extending it to others,
Your glory may shine brightly in the world,
And draw others to the light of Your Kingdom.
Through Christ our Lord,