First Meditation: On exercising works of mercy
Jesus clearly tells us that in order to find mercy we must show mercy. Blessed are the merciful, he explains, for they shall obtain mercy. (Matt. 5:7) The Apostle James tells us of the consequences of those who show no mercy: they will be judged without mercy. (James 2:13) So important is mercy that God himself expressly rejects the fast of those that refuse to show mercy to their neighbour. He declares he will neither hear their prayers nor accept their sacrifices. (Prov. 21:13, Isaiah 1:11/ 15-18) If then, you desire at this Lent time to seek divine mercy for yourself in the forgiveness of your sins, see that your fasting and prayer is accompanied with your own acts of mercy to others.
If you have much, give abundantly and, if you have little, take care even then to be willing to bestow some benefit on others. This is the guidance you need when it comes to acts of mercy. (Tob. 4:9) Such mercy and charity will recommend your fasting and prayer to God who is all charity and whose tender mercies are above all his works.
Consider how many ways and upon how many occasions, the word of God recommends the giving of alms. An eternal kingdom in heaven is promised to all those who are diligent in this exercise and threatens with eternal damnation all those who are negligent. (Matt. 25) This encourages even the greatest sinners to redeem their sins by alms and their iniquities with works of mercy to the poor. (Dan. 4:24) We are assured many times in Holy Scripture of the benefits of our acts of mercy. Moreover, Christ considers what is done for the poor, as done for him and will reward it accordingly. (Matt. 25)
The conditions that must accompany our alms in order that they may be capable of producing these great effects must be liberal and in proportion to our ability, bearing in mind that as we sow so we reap and those that sow sparingly will get a poor harvest. Our alms must be given with a pure intention, that is not out of ostentation or pride or for an other human motive, but for God’s sake. Otherwise God gives no reward. Unless we join to these qualities in our giving, a sincere repentance for our sins together with a real resolution to love and serve God in the future, our acts of mercy in the end must fail to please him.
Decide to esteem and practice this blessed virtue of mercy, but see that your intention is pure. Beware of losing the benefit of it by an uncaring and selfishheart—a heart which sees charity to others as only giving what you do not need rather than truly sharing what you possess.
Second Meditation: The spiritual works of mercy
The spiritual works of mercy, by which we help our neighbours in the necessities of their souls, are of far greater value in the sight of God than those that merely relate to their bodies. If God is pleased to promise such ample rewards to the feeding of the hungry, clothing of the naked, and such other works of mercy, how much more will he reward those works of mercy and charity by which men and women are drawn out of darkness and brought back to God. Holy Scripture tells us that whoever causes a sinner to be converted from the error of his or her ways will save themselves as well. Such is the importance of this spiritual work of mercy that they, who give it, will shine as stars for all eternity. (James 5:20; Dan. 12:3)
These spiritual works of mercy are principally exercised by reclaiming people from their unhappy ways, even ways so evil that they can lead nowhere but to death. Such mercy is given by tenderness, gentle corrections, sharing, studying the Word of God together, kindness, comfort, listening, and supporting them when they are tempted. Such mercy bears with patience, forgiving, and praying what all such unhappy people have to say. In short, by seeing in each such person the living Christ and by showing through your own example that morality, ethics and love that reflects the teachings of Jesus. Nothing less will do.
Such acts of mercy are not optional for a Christian. They are a strict obligation and apply to all who would follow Christ, because charity, which is the expression of love, is a virtue of universal obligation. It requires us to be concerned for our neighbour and his or her eternal welfare and not just how successful they cope with daily life. The measurement is not by wordly values but by the standards of God.
What then must we do? We must take every opportunity of contributing to the conversion and salvation of any one of such people. If we take the matter seriously as we should, then we will quickly find that opportunities of this nature will not be wanting. At the very least there are two ways, which are certainly in the power of every one and from which no one can be excused, and these are the example of a holy life and the efficacy of fervent prayer poured out to God in behalf of poor sinners. Lent is surely the perfect time to focus yourself on spiritual works of mercy and, hopefully then, to continue this Christian obligation throughout the year.
Third Meditation: On Jesus being condemned to the Cross
Perceiving that Pilate wanted to release Jesus, the crowd told him that, if he did so, he was no friend of the emperor, since anyone who made himself a king opposed Caesar. (John14:12) From this we see how human respect for other people’s power and position are capable of producing evil and how sad it is to fear or to love anything more than God. So it was that Pilate’s resolution disappeared in the face of losing favour with his emperor. Have we never had a share in this kind of guilt? Has fear or the apprehension of what the world would say too often influenced us to turn away from declaring our Faith or even to condemn it by our silence when others question the truth of Christ and the existence of mortal sin? What advantage we give evil by such human fears. When faced with accusations of wrongdoing, do we admit that we are sinners and ask for forgiveness or do we seek to defend ourselves so as to save our conscience and our social standing in this world? Do we use vain excuses and fear to wash our hands of guilt just like Pilate did?
When the sentence of death is passed on him, consider how Our Saviour behaves. He receives it in silence and peace with perfect submission and conformity to the will of God. Do you embrace injustice in the same way? Do you receive suffer with as much thankfulness as God’s blessings? In short, do you willingly and gladly submitted to the will of God? Jesus showed us that this is the only way.
© “Meditations for Lent” by Stafford Whiteaker from “CALLED INTO LIGHT — Meditations with Bishop Challoner for the Christian Year” by Stafford Whiteaker to be published by Gracewing Ltd in late 2021. Permission is granted for quoting from these meditations as long as the source by book title and author is credited. Pre-ordering via www.gracewing.co.uk. (Please note that foreign rights including USA have not yet been finalised. Permission has been granted by the author for this book to be translated into the French language as well as the usual translations given in foreign rights editions.)