Sunday, July 20, 2014

Whatever happened to mercy?

A word that we rarely use any more in contemporary America is "mercy". As a young boy, brought up in the Roman Catholic church, I was taught to perform "works of mercy" which usually are thought of as giving alms, visiting the sick, and helping people in need.

Mercy is an attitude and behavior that is based on justice, equity, and compassion. It usually implies a leniency, and flexibility in abrogating what might be considered "just deserts" or consequences for illegal, unwise, or immoral behavior. In other words, a person deserves a harsh punishment or consequences, and is shown "mercy" in the sense of clemency or commuting of the sentence.

Mercy can be based on an ethic of forgiveness or it can be based on charitable acts to ease the suffering of another whether self-imposed or the result of uncontrollable circumstances. Granting mercy also implies a superordinate/subordinate position in the sense that a person with power or more resources in a one-up position helps someone in a one down position.

A "you made your bed, now lie in it" attitude while it may be just, and equitable, does not seem compassionate and not merciful. To be granted mercy can be soul saving and restore one's faith in human kind, God, and the world, or it can be enabling that allows the person to continue in his or her dysfunctional ways. Paradoxically, granting mercy may not always be merciful, if the person's dysfunctional behavior is only likely to continue. On the other hand, granting mercy can sometimes be a miraculous, conversion experience that significantly changes a person's life. Often the giver of mercy cannot know the outcome, and certainly can't control it. Mother Teresa said that she and her sisters of charity did their acts of mercy in the streets of Calcutta with the poor and the sick to be faithful not to be successful. Whether she and her sisters were successful or not in reducing sickness and poverty in Calcutta was in God's hands. Success was none of her concern. She did what she did out of faith in Jesus' injunction "to love as I have loved" and her intention and motivation came from the desire to be faithful not successful.

Unitarian Universalists may want to adopt Mother Teresa's understanding so that our following our second principle of justice, equity, and compassion is not necessarily with the intention of being successful. Bringing about justice and equity with our individual acts, person to person, may not always produce the desired results because of circumstances we can't control, but we should be faithful to our principle because of what the practice does for the doer if not the recipient. We are called, all of us, but especially those of us with power and resources, to be merciful in what is rapidly becoming a cynical, hard, "I don't care" world. Extending mercy and engaging in acts of mercy is a manifestation of our faith in our first and second principles.

My Kind Of Church Music - Mercy, Mercy Me, Marvin Gaye

No comments:

Post a Comment