We have now reached the halfway point of Advent and thus, of our examination of the Beatitudes as well. I hope that since the Beatitudes are a guide to happiness, these reflections are adding to your Advent in a way that makes your heart receptive to the coming of Jesus Christ at Christmas. Now, let’s look at the fifth and sixth beatitudes.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” – Matthew 5:7
Last week, we addressed the beatitude that promised satisfaction for those who seek justice and righteousness, which in and of themselves are good things when rightly ordered. However, while we have justice on one side of the coin, we must balance it with mercy on the other, because God himself is both justice and mercy. If justice existed without mercy, none of us would be safe from getting what we truly deserve for our sins. If our sense of righteousness against our enemies is to be satisfied, then so will theirs. This reality ought to tug at our heartstrings and stir up compassion and mercy in us so that we can see the suffering of others, bodily or spiritual, and desire that they be alleviated from their pain.
It makes sense that the reward for being merciful is receiving mercy in return. We have a natural inclination to want to be treated gently, but it would not be righteous for us to want mercy for ourselves while withholding it from others. We each go through tough times in life, and it is a comfort when we are offered mercy, such as a friend delivering a warm meal or a medical bill being reduced due to hardship. Do we recognize the opportunities we encounter each day to offer someone an act of temporal or physical mercy when we can? What about spiritual mercy? This point is so important that in the Lord’s Prayer we recite, as Jesus instructed: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In other words, the mercy we desire from God regarding our infractions is conditional upon our extension of mercy to others. The key to this is empathy. If you can understand how you fall into sin, then you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see how they might be led astray, making it easier for you to have compassion for them. Beware, however, there is such a thing as false mercy. It is not ultimately merciful to accept or even encourage sin for the sake of not rocking the boat or making people feel uncomfortable. Mercy necessarily seeks the good of the other, which is growth in virtue for eternal salvation.
Here, during Advent, we are patiently waiting for Jesus, who is mercy himself. Jesus is the gift who restores our relationship with God through his life, passion, death, and resurrection, stepping between us and the justice we deserve. Mary, a model of mercy, carried the Savior in her womb, gave birth to him, raised him, followed him, and suffered immensely as she watched him suffer, all for our sake. Mary’s fiat was an act of mercy for all of mankind. Meditating on these truths ought to move our hearts to be more merciful, though we still pale in comparison to the mercy of the hearts of Jesus and Mary.
If you are looking for ways to increase in mercy, the Church provides a blueprint for doing so with the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. The Corporal Works are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, assist the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead. Likewise, the Spiritual Works are: instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowing, correct the sinner, forgive offenses, bear another’s burdens patiently, and pray for the living and the dead.
Perhaps some of the works of mercy are easier for you than others. This Advent, choose one or two that are more difficult for you. First, imagine a situation where you need mercy to be extended to you. Then, find small ways to extend the same mercy to others.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” -Matthew 5:8
What does it mean to be pure of heart? When something is pure, it is not mixed or diluted with anything else. Pure water is free from chemicals, dirt, and other contaminants. Therefore, a pure heart loves God entirely without contamination of anything else, such as attachment to sin, self-serving motives, or worldly distractions. In a pure heart, love for other people or things is ordered to the glory of God because he made them and gifted them to the person who loves them. Even love for your spouse and children is ordered toward loving God when your heart is pure. “He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me,” (Matt 10:37). When our hearts are pure, we internalize that all things find their source in God and all of our love must be directed toward him at the sake of all else.
The reward for having a pure heart is to see God. Seeing God can have both a physical and spiritual connotation. Think of the example from Scripture, where people could literally see Jesus in front of them, teaching and performing miracles, yet due to their unclean hearts, they could not recognize him as God. So, if our hearts are pure, we can see Jesus as we go about our daily lives, but we can also cloud our vision with the impurities of our hearts. For example, we can see Jesus in every human being who has been made in the image and likeness of God, or we can be jaded by our anger over something someone else has done. We can recognize blessings in their abundance, or we can live with ingratitude, feeling like we do not have enough or suffer too much.
Similarly, we can spiritually see God more clearly when we root out the sin in our lives. The more we sin, the more distance we put between God and ourselves. In the case of mortal sin, we cut God out of our lives altogether. So, in contrast, the goal is to grow in virtue, to do all things to please God alone, to make our hearts pure, and to pull back the veil from our spiritual eyes so that we can see him as he is, which is pure love.
The two purest hearts to walk the earth were those of Jesus and Mary because they were free from all sin. Everything they did was ordered to love God and love others for God’s sake. No self-serving act was ever committed by either of them. When Mary looked at Jesus’ face for the first time after he was born, she saw the face of God with pure love from a pure heart. We, too, can see Jesus with this purity if we cooperate with God’s grace to run from sin and cultivate virtue. Three tools will help us to purify our hearts: the Sacrament of Reconciliation, fasting, and prayer. The more we frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the more we clear the cobwebs of sin, and the more grace is poured into our hearts. Regarding fasting, we often find that our spirit and flesh oppose one another. Fasting helps us detach from the pleasures of the flesh to focus on our hearts. The spiritual feast is in the Eucharist, and fasting helps us to focus on that. Of course, all of this is supported by prayer, where our hearts live in communion with God’s heart. The more we pray and spend time with God, the less time there is for other things to contaminate our hearts. This Advent, can you increase your reception of the sacraments, engage in intentional fasting, and spend more heartfelt time with God in prayer?
Find Chaplets for Advent here.
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