to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God

{Note: This piece originally ran in the Arlington Catholic Herald. I rarely re-print columns in their entirety here, but I'm especially fond of this one and I wanted to be sure it's tucked into my archives here.}


“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”

(Mi 6:8).

What does the Lord require of you?

I love this verse. Love it. To commit it to memory is to have a life’s mission statement always before you. God shows us what is good. And then, He tells what He requires of us to act in His image. Because He is the teacher, He gives us a concise instruction in how to live. What do we know about what He requires?

He demands we act justly, with mercy. St. Therese also writes about justice and mercy together. Mercy is the lens through which she views justice and mercy is the perfection that graces her contemplation of all other virtues.

“To me (God) has granted His infinite Mercy, and through it I contemplate and adore the other divine perfections! All of these perfections appear to be resplendent with love; even His Justice (and perhaps this even more so than the others) seems to me clothed in love. What a sweet joy it is to think that God is Just, i.e., that He takes into account our weakness, that He is perfectly aware of our fragile nature. What should I fear then?” (Story of a Soul)

Is this how we live justice? Are we just in such a way that the people to whom we dispense justice have nothing to fear? When we point out another’s shortcomings do we do it in a way that takes into account her weaknesses and is aware of her frailties? This is the justice that we are called to live. Not an iron fist of fear, but a level-headed, even kindhearted, mercy.

Speaking of kindhearted mercy, this verse also is translated, “to act justly and to love kindness” (Revised Standard Version of the Bible) and “to act justly and love goodness” (New American Bible). Which is it: mercy, kindness or goodness? It’s all of them, rolled together. To be merciful is to be kind and to act with genuine goodness.

It’s an emotional response, to be sure, a sense of empathy, but we are required to offer so much more than empathy. We are required to make a decision to care, to be compassionate, to love with self-sacrifice. Then we are required to do something. We must act on that compassion. We have to respond with genuine effort. It’s a simple thing to call a wrong a wrong. It’s a simple thing to point out someone’s faults or failings. We are a people who have been shown God’s goodness; we are required to do more. We are called to act justly and love mercy.

Remember: Every person’s shortcoming causes her suffering. It is a wound. Jesus came to tenderly dress the wounds and to heal the suffering of the sinner.

“Mercy is love when it encounters suffering. More specifically, it is two movements that take place within us when we see someone (or something) suffer. The first is an emotional movement, a movement of compassion that we feel in our hearts or even, when the suffering is particularly intense, deep in our guts. The second is a movement of action. In other words, as we see someone suffering and feel compassion for him, we soon find ourselves reaching out to alleviate his suffering. In sum: Mercy is love that feels compassion for those who suffer (heart) and reaches to help them (arm)” (Consoling the Heart of Jesus, by Father Michael Gaitley).

Merciful justice requires us to feel and to alleviate someone’s suffering. That’s a very different concept from the one of judging, scolding, punishing and humiliating. Finally, we are called to walk humbly with our God. In our humility, we are not quick to condemn our neighbor. We recognize our own sinfulness. We recognize that we are nothing without Him and that we are limited in our own capacity to understand another person. We respond with genuine humility when we are gentle, allow ourselves to be infused with the kindness, goodness and mercy of Our Lord, and become ministers of that mercy to everyone we meet.