At St Mary’s there was what we would call a Spanish Spanish teacher (as in Hispanic: Venezuelan). As such she would talk about ‘rewarding’ students…with detention. I am reminded of this, having come up with the headline for this post about the Jubilee Year of Mercy.
The difference between rewarding and deserving is that one is impersonally positive and the other is not easily negative in its individual way. It would be said, not that a robber should be rewarded, but that he deserves prison; but does the robber himself concur?
If not, it would be a square-peg-in-round-hole affair; if so, yet it is not a matter of finding his niche. At the heart of the question is humility, coming down to earth, which is not about reality checks but the search for truth.
The reality check only reminds the man of what he used to justify becoming a robber. The search for truth is about a promise made, to which one sticks regardless of circumstance. I am jobless and in debt, and the country is now in recession, but I will not steal.
And precisely because this is set before me I have a responsibility to maintain it. Promises? Responsibility? This calls for someone else: a pattern is formed, conversation, which now brings consistency into the mix.
Here’s the problem: even a mild heart attack disrupts one’s heartbeat. So I don’t deserve one? No…and yes. No, because the other person wants to converse with me. Yes, because of my actions and, in a sense, independently of my intentions.
This working towards it, towards anything, is what makes rewarding and deserving similar. Yet this means that even the search for truth, the conversation with the other, can lead to the mild heart attack, which can strike at any time; what is deserved can truly be rewarded.
Now can the perspectives at play be seen: I (must) deserve what the other rewards, and what the other rewards is in fact the same mild heart attack I have been avoiding for so long, but if I truly understand mercy (misericordia) I would know it is mild-heartedness.
The attack of the mild heart is a sudden wave that stops a moving person. It can even throw him onto his back from motion and stillness alike. As such, for us, the physical heart is not normally mild and ironically works harder in this state.
So, too, does every person’s core work: there must be more (intense) thought, prayer, emotion, virtue… – everything about the human being that is not just anatomy – all of which labour comes with a price, for “the labourer deserves his wages”. This, too, is mercy.
It has been wrong, then, for mercy to be opposed so crudely yet commonly to justice (or vice versa, though perspective may change as such) in the sense of either being cancelled out. Rather what both do is converse, as I do with the other in the search for truth.
Hence, to answer Pilate, truth is justice and mercy. It is for one to deserve the other’s mild heart, not to demand it unjustly by not working for it. “What you sow is what you reap” and to expect anything else, as Einstein generalised, is the opposite of truth: insanity.
Which is why some deserve actual mild heart attacks, as in the famous conversion of St Ignatius of Loyola: in general ill health is better physical than spiritual – “better for a man to enter heaven blind” – for convalescence allows for conversation and (this allows) for conversion.
For, just as the heart returns to normalcy by slowing down from its harder work, so must I take the time to address my other, to turn to him like I would turn a corner in my vehicle – slowing down –, to talk to him heart to heart: cor ad cor loquitur.
At that I get to part of my inspiration for this whole think-piece: the treatment of civilly remarried divorcés at the 2014-2015 Synods on the family. Such meetings of hearts prove what I wrote in my last piece: that love is not understood as the God who is love.
Yet they ask (God?) for mercy, unaware that “mercy and faithfulness have met”. When a man and a woman exchange vows before God, united, they make those promises to him…and God cannot be divorced. As long as he is in the picture, to phrase it so, mutual fidelity is binding.
It is a matter of justice, which – in the same line – is in embrace with peace and “looks down from heaven”. When it does not see “faithfulness…spring from the earth” it knows that there is no peace on earth. To undo this Christ came.
He is the justice that, from heaven, was conceived when the Holy Spirit looked upon Mary. He is the faithfulness that, in her, sprang from the earth. He is the mercy of the Father, the highest reason for God’s glory. He is the peace to people of good will. He is the Truth, the other.
Joseph, even before he understood that Mary could not sin (against him), was honourable in shielding her from shame and, when finally he understood, remained faithful. The value system now may be materially different, but morally nothing can change.
Persons married before God who end up divorcing would be shaming each other by going off with someone outside of the picture. May an attack of the mild heart, a wave of mercy, knock the breath of self out of them and cause their harder-working hearts to breathe God back in.
May all of us, too, especially in this extraordinary year of jubilee, have such an attack of the mild heart, that our hearts would search for the truth and come to rest in him. Thus may this mercy of the Father be spread, like an ocean, opened up to us and cleansing us.