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Blessed are the mer­ci­ful, for they shall obtain mer­cy.” (Matthew 5:7) To be mer­ci­ful is to be like God, for “The Lord is mer­ci­ful and gra­cious, slow to anger and abound­ing in stead­fast love.” (Psalm 103:8)

The Lord passed before Moses and pro­claimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God mer­ci­ful and gra­cious, slow to anger and abound­ing in stead­fast love for thou­sands, for­giv­ing iniq­ui­ty and trans­gres­sion and sin …” (Exo­dus 34:6–7)

This also is the teach­ing of Christ in His Ser­mon on the Mount:

… love your ene­mies and do good and lend, expect­ing noth­ing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be chil­dren of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrate­ful and the self­ish. Be mer­ci­ful, even as your Father is mer­ci­ful. (Luke 6:35–36)

To be mer­ci­ful does not mean to jus­ti­fy false­hood and sin. It does not mean to be tol­er­ant of fool­ish­ness and evil. It does not mean to over­look injus­tice and iniq­ui­ty. God is not this way, and does not do this.

To be mer­ci­ful means to have com­pas­sion on evil-doers and to sym­pa­thize with those who are caught in the bonds of sin. It means to forego every self- right­eous­ness and every self-jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in com­par­i­son with oth­ers. It means to refuse to con­demn whose who do wrong, but to for­give those who harm and destroy, both them­selves and oth­ers. It is to say with utter seri­ous­ness, “for­give us our tres­pass­es as we for­give those who tres­pass against us.” (Matthew 6:12)

Accord­ing to Jesus, the spir­i­tu­al per­son will be mer­ci­ful because he him­self is in need of mer­cy. The spir­i­tu­al per­son will be mer­ci­ful because he knows that he him­self is a sin­ful man in need of God’s mer­cy and help. There is no one with­out sin, no one who can claim right­eous­ness before God. If one claims to have no sin, says Saint John, he is a liar, and makes God a liar as well. (I John 1:10,2:4) The spir­i­tu­al per­son, because he is in union with God, acknowl­edges his sin and his need for for­give­ness from God and from men. He can­not con­demn oth­ers for he knows, but for the grace of Christ, that he him­self stands unwor­thy and condemned.

If Thou O Lord, shouldst mark iniq­ui­ties, who could stand? But there is for­give­ness with Thee that Thou mayst be feared. (Psalm 130:3–4)

The mer­ci­ful per­son is mer­ci­ful toward him­self as well as oth­ers. This does not mean that he makes light of his sins and takes God’s for­give­ness for grant­ed. It means rather that he does not plague him­self with neu­rot­ic guilt and remorse, sur­ren­der­ing to sin­ful scru­ples which are the death of the soul. It means that he trusts in the lov­ing-kind­ness of God and knows, as Saint Paul has said, that no works of his own will ever deliv­er him from the need of God’s mer­cy and love.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man boast. For we are His work­man­ship, cre­at­ed in Christ Jesus for good works, which God pre­pared before­hand, that we should walk in them. (Eph­esians 2:8–10)

Thus it is the con­tin­u­al recep­tion of the mer­cy of God and noth­ing else, which empow­ers the soul to good works. And it is only the mer­ci­ful who attain mer­cy from God. For all eter­ni­ty man will be at the dis­pos­al of God’s mer­cy. At what­ev­er stage of devel­op­ment he will reach, man’s prayer will always remain the cen­tral prayer of the Church: Lord have mer­cy on me a sin­ner! The holi­er the per­son, the greater is his sense of sin­ful unwor­thi­ness, the stronger is his depen­dence on the mer­cy of God, and the more he is mer­ci­ful to the weak­ness­es of others.