The Sermon on the Mount is a famous and often-quoted moment in Jesus’ ministry, and the Beatitudes are certainly a high point. In many of the film versions of the life of Jesus, the Sermon on the Mount is a grand, sweeping scene with shots of a huge crowd around Jesus, who is seated on top of a great hill. He begins in a loud, clear, convincing voice: “Blessed are the poor in spirit….” (Mt 5:3).
Radically Living the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are truly a wellspring for the spiritual life—we can meditate on them again and again, and continue to draw new insights. As we know, they are a sort of spiritual program for all followers of Jesus. Religious men and women, who follow Jesus in a radical way, are called to live the Beatitudes in a deep and radical way as well. In fact, the Gospel passage of the Beatitudes is one of the options for the Gospel at Mass on feasts of saints who were religious, as well as at Mass on the occasion of a profession or renewal of religious vows.
Each of the Beatitudes deserves its own Lectio Divina! But today, let us consider the fifth Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Mt 5:7). For me, this Beatitude immediately brings to mind another saying of Jesus: “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36). There is a clear call to mercy here. But what exactly does this mean?
Mercy Spilling Over from God’s Heart
First, it means that we need to draw nearer and nearer to God, our merciful Father. Recently, one of our Sisters said to me, “Mercy is not natural, you know. It’s natural for God, but not for us. We have to learn it—we have to pray to learn it.” The first part of being merciful, of practicing mercy, is opening ourselves to receive mercy from God. Pope Francis wrote about this when he declared the Jubilee Year of Mercy: “We are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us” (Misericordiae Vultus, # 9, emphasis added).
Mercy, according to Pope Francis, is the foundation of God’s relationship with us. Mercy spills over from God’s heart; God cannot but be merciful with us. He loves to show mercy to us! Because it is so foundational, Pope Francis says, “We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy….At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, #s 2–3). One way to gaze on mercy is through a daily examen—pausing at the end of the day to reflect on God’s presence in our lives that day. What happened in my day? How was God present? Can I see that he was present, do I believe that he was? His very presence is a manifestation of his overflowing mercy.
Becoming Instruments of Mercy
There is a second part to this call to mercy that we hear in the Beatitudes. Opening ourselves to God’s mercy in our own lives is an ongoing process. But the more we do, the more we are freed to live mercifully and show mercy toward others. Pope Francis wrote about this, too: “Jesus asks us also to forgive and to give. To be instruments of mercy because it was we who first received mercy from God. To be generous with others, knowing that God showers his goodness upon us with immense generosity” (Misericordiae Vultus, #14). The stream of God’s mercy pouring into our lives flows through us to others through the very words, gestures, and actions we use toward others.
Pope Francis’ words, and indeed the Beatitudes, are not meant to stay on the page—we are called to live them out and make them concrete. Indeed, concrete acts of mercy draw us closer to God and closer to our brothers and sisters. And drawing closer to God is the heart of discernment. Perhaps we can take some time to reflect on how Jesus is calling us to live his words, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” and “Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful.” Bring this reflection to Jesus, and see what he says to you!
A Discerner’s Prayer
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." Heavenly Father, blessed are you, for you are merciful. You have shown us mercy. Blessed are we, because we have received the Father’s mercy. Blessed are we when we are merciful, for we become the Father’s mercy to others!
Sr. Emily Beata Marsh, FSP, is a Daughter of St. Paul. She recently professed her final vows in June 2018. She is currently serving in the Pauline mission of evangelization through the media and in the vocation apostolate in Alexandria, VA.