Thursday, September 10, 2009

5th Beatitude: Blessed are the Merciful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.


Continuing our commentary on the Beatitudes by Saint Gregory of Nyssa:


The last Beatitude taught us to have hunger, an unceasing desire, for higher things. In the Beatitudes, Jesus is teaching us how to climb a Divine ladder that leads us to blessedness, or Theosis. In this Beatitude we are called to become merciful.


What is mercy?


Gregory says ,

The obvious meaning of the words calls men to mutual charity and sympathy, which are demanded by the capricious inequality of the circumstances of life; for all live not in the same conditions, neither as regards reputation nor physical constitution nor other assets. Life is in many ways divided up into opposites, since it may be spent as slave or as master, in riches or poverty, in fame or dishonor, in bodily infirmity or in good health–in all such things there is division. Therefore the creature in need should be made equal to the one who has a larger share, and that which goes short should be filled by what has abundance; this is the law mercy gives men in regard to the needy…
Mercy is a voluntary sorrow that joins itself to the sufferings of others.


We all have differing issues in life. Some of us are rich and some are poor. Some live in highly industrialized nations and others in rural underdeveloped nations. Some have very good health while other suffer from painful maladies. Mercy, Gregory is pointing out, has to do with placing ourselves in an equal situation with those who do not enjoy the same benefits of life that we do. This is why he says it's a “voluntary sorrow.


We all would like to share in the good fortune of others but not generally in their misfortune. Mercy involves intensified charity where we choose to also share in the misfortunes of others. This is the height of virtue.


Think of the kind of world it would be if all developed this virtue. Gregory says,

Envy would be futile, hate would die out, remembrance of injuries would be banished along with lies, fraud, and war, all of which are the off spring of covetousness. If that hard and unfeeling attitude were removed, the evil growths would be weeded out with it completely, as with the root of wickedness. And with the departure of evils there would enter instead the whole array of good things, peace and justice with all their train of virtues… Therefore mercy, as the definition has shown, is the parent of kindness, and the pledge of charity; it is the bond of all loving disposition…


There is another meaning here as Jesus says, for they shall obtain mercy. This implies that those who are merciful will have their reward later. Gregory says this shows us a higher doctrine. Mercy is a course we must choose with faith.


He who made man in His own image endowed the nature of His handiwork with the principles of all goodness. Hence nothing good enters into us from outside, but it lies with us to have what we will, and to bring forth the good from our nature as if from some inner chamber. For from the parts we are taught about the whole, that there is no other way of obtaining one's desire except by procuring the good for oneself. Therefore the Lord says to His hearers: “The Kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21); and, Everyone that asks receives; and he that seeks finds; and to him that knocks, it shall be opened. (Matt 7:8) So it depends on us and is in the power of our free will to receive what we desire, to find what we seek, and to enter where we wish to be.


Gregory laments on this teaching:

How is it possible that with this in mind we should spend our pity on the misfortunes of others? Should the soul not rather be disposed to have pity on itself if it thinks of what it once possessed, and from what state it has fallen?


His answer is as follows:

it is blessed to be concerned with one's physical health. For if a man is concerned about this, he will live in good health. Thus also is the merciful called blessed, because the fruit of mercy becomes itself the possession of the merciful;

We need to ask, when the time of judgment comes what will happen to us. Will we feel acclamation by the God of all creation?


Gregory concludes

Therefore, brethren, let us heed the voice of the Lord, who in a few words teaches us so many things about the future life. Let us become merciful, so that through mercy we may become blessed, in Christ Jesus Our Lord to whom be glory and power for ever and ever.


Next: Purity of Heart

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