3 Reasons Why Christians Need to Always Err on the Side of Mercy

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“Why are you purposefully making errors?” Should we not put the customer first instead of individual metrics? Why does she [my wife] refuse to help around the house? Do my children live to make life difficult?  These questions bombarded my mind over the course of the past few weeks while at work and home. The roots of impatience and capricious thoughts grew in my heart.

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Today, I made time during my breaks and after work to reflect on my anxieties, worries, and fears. Slowing down to ponder the effects of my actions [or inactions] allowed me to realize the message of Psalm 103 is not merely a pious saying, but rather it is essential to incorporate mercy into daily living! According to the Psalmist, “Merciful and gracious is the LORD, slow to anger, abounding in mercy” (Psalm 103:8). Rooted in compassion, mercy is what all Christians are compelled to show their fellow neighbors at all times.

Admittedly, I fail at this goal each and every day. I lash out in anger when my children do not listen to my directions, I am quick to judge my co-workers mistakes as failings, and I fail love my wife—each and every day—as Christ loved the Church! Below are three reasons why Christians need to display mercy daily!

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Work Sanctifies

 A turning point in my spiritual journey occurred upon my discovery of the richness of theological wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva. Founding Opus Dei, the Spanish priest reminded the world that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life can sanctify us. An anonymous donor at my parish gifted various families during Christmastime. Serendipitously, my family was chosen to receive gifts. We only needed to complete a form with suggestions for items based on our needs and wants. Under the section marked “wants” I requested the book The Way by Fr. Escriva.

Along with being a treat to read, the saint’s wisdom is quite practical to living amidst the busyness of daily living. According to paragraph number 359 he wrote, “Add a supernatural motive to your ordinary professional work, and you will have sanctified it.”  Working for the sake of breadwinning is an admirable goal. However, only when I begin my workday with the specific mentality that the joys, trials, and anything in between that I encounter in my labors will lead me to becoming the best version of myself do I truly thrive—not merely survive at work!

The Second Vatican Council’s spoke of the value of human work as well. According to the Council Fathers,

Human activity, to be sure, takes its significance from its relationship to man. Just as it proceeds from man, so it is ordered toward man. For when a man works he not only alters things and society, he develops himself as well. He learns much, he cultivates his resources, and he goes outside of himself and beyond himself. Rightly understood this kind of growth is of greater value than any external riches which can be garnered. A man is more precious for what he is than for what he has (Gaudium Et Spes, 35).

The essential message is that personal development occurs through our daily work, it matters not what we are doing as long as we continue to strive for excellence in virtue and develop our love for God and fellow mankind.

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Marriage Matters

G.K. Chesterton reparteed regarding the subject of marriage by saying, “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline.” From my experience, the English essayist’s words ring true for my marriage.

This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1641,

This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.

Being a parent myself, I learned it is essential to err on the side of mercy when raising children. Repeating commands to my children is a frequent task. Recognizing that my son and daughter do not always intentionally refuse to listen is key to bettering me as a parent. Children learn new things daily, hourly, and sometimes each and every minute. Kid’s excitement of experiencing newness oftentimes gets perceived—at least I fall into this erroneous line of thought— as them acting out or being too rambunctious. Parents need to be slow to anger and rich in mercy like the Divine Father.

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Just Don’t Judge, You are not the Just Judge

 Jesus’ most famous teaching with regards to judging others comes from Matthew 7:1-5. Our Lord informed the crowds during his Sermon on the Mount with the following,

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

This ever relevant message seems always be applicable no matter the age or nation a person is from. Yesterday, I saw a thread on a Catholic-related Facebook group that I am a member where Christ’s words would have been wise to ponder. The original post discussed a recent quote about Pope Francis and his conversation with a man with same-sex attraction. People seemed quick to judge the bishop of Rome’s statements as being out of line with Catholic Church teaching.  Judging from the peanut gallery does not solve the issues the Church faces on a daily basis. statler-waldor-peanut-gallery

Christians need to err on the side of mercy for it is the centerpiece of Jesus’ teaching. While the entirely of Catholic Church tradition emphasized God’s Mercy, the focus of Divine Mercy deepened with the saints of the 20th century. Perhaps the best encapsulation of Divine Mercy is St. Maria Faustina’s mystical experiences with Jesus Christ.  “‘I am love and Mercy Itself.  There is no misery that could be a match for My mercy, neither will misery exhaust it, because as it is being granted – it increases.  The soul that trusts in My mercy is most fortunate, because I Myself take care of it.’” (Diary of a Soul 1273, page 459). Let us reflect God’s mercy in our daily life and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us away from an unhealthy judgmental mindset!

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Who am I to Judge?—the Death of Charles Manson

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I normally do not write on current events or celebrity/infamous figures, however, this week I will make an exception. The notorious serial killer Charles Manson died at the age of 83. I read a few threads on social media speculating the state of his soul. One conversation on Facebook had a poll question had the following choices for viewers to vote on the status of his soul:

a. who am I to judge?

b. yes, he is in hell, not sure, but there is a high probability he is in hell

c. he is in purgatory

d.  Miscellaneous options

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According to the official teaching of the Catholic Church, I opt for the first answer—who am I to judge? Honestly, I cannot definitively know the status of his soul in the afterlife.  Now, this stance is likely to be unpopular, especially from those impacted by his evil actions. I am not condoning Manson’s actions. Murder is against the 5th Commandment. All life has dignity.  To end it is grave and serious! However, at the end of the day, I am not the judge and jury of the eternal state of a human’s soul once they pass from this world. Anyone who dons the role of judge, jury, and executioner of another human being toes a dangerous and prideful line.

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  1. Hell– Population Unknown: A theological census on the residents in hell does not exist–at least for humans. According to Bishop Robert Barron, “Catholic doctrine is that Hell exists, but yet the Church has never claimed to know if any human being is actually in Hell. When the Church says that Hell exists, it means that the definitive rejection of God’s love is a real possibility” (Is Hell Crowded or Empty? A Catholic Perspective, 2011). However, hell is populated with spiritual beings like the fallen angels and Satan. The Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 391 and 393 tells us,

Scripture and the Church’s Tradition see in this being a fallen angel, called “Satan” or the “devil”.267 The Church teaches that Satan was at first a good angel, made by God: “The devil and the other demons were indeed created naturally good by God, but they became evil by their own doing…It is the irrevocable character of their choice, and not a defect in the infinite divine mercy, that makes the angels’ sin unforgivable. There is no repentance for the angels after their fall, just as there is no repentance for men after death.

While Charles Manson’s horrific actions were severe and constituted justice to be served, we do not know whether or not he asked God for mercy during his four decades in prison. God is ultimately a merciful judge. He provides multiple opportunities for individuals to ask for forgiveness and to amend their sinful life. I will again look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church for guidance.  Paragraph 1037 states, “God predestines no one to go to hell; 620 for this, a willful turning away from God (a mortal sin) is necessary, and persistence in it until the end.”

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2. Death Penalty: Genesis 4 describes the first murder—Cain’s fratricide of Abel. As a cradle Catholic I heard stories from the bible so many times that sometimes I overlook the details of the account. The story of Cain and Abel is definitely a passage that I need to be reminded of, especially, when anger, jealousy, and pride creep up on me.

Cain and Abel present offerings to God. Genesis 4 tells us that God is pleased with Abel’s gift because he sacrifices the best of his flock, whereas Cain’s sacrifice is mediocre. Jealousy grows inside of Cain and instead of striving to be better with his offering next time he kills his brother in hopes to eliminate his perceived competition. God eventually interrogates Cain. Cain tries to make up an excuse, but he is found guilty. Here is where the story takes a turn, instead of killing Cain God spares him. In fact, he even pledges to protect Cain. Listen to Genesis 4:11-15,

Now you are banned from the ground* that opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.d12If you till the ground, it shall no longer give you its produce. You shall become a constant wanderer on the earth.13Cain said to the LORD: “My punishment is too great to bear.14Look; you have now banished me from the ground. I must avoid you and be a constant wanderer on the earth. Anyone may kill me at sight.”15Not so! the LORD said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times. So the LORD put a mark* on Cain, so that no one would kill him at sight.

People can debate whether the Cain and Abel story is meant to be taken literally or figuratively. Nonetheless, the key message of the passage is the reality of God’s mercy. God does not seek vengeance as a first act, instead he allows for the consequences of sinful actions to occur and then he provides time for humans to seek forgiveness.

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In terms of the whether the capital punishment is morally permissible or not, Genesis 4 provides a precedent for the avoidance of using the death penalty. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2267,

Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.68

Through the increase in rehabilitation programs for criminals to participate in and improvement of prisons to section them off from the rest of the populace, the need for the death penalty in civilized nations is not as common as it was in the past. I want to make sure I am quite clear: Charles Manson’ heinous actions as a cult leader and murderer are deplorable. As a Catholic I am often challenged to demonstrate love individuals who committed such atrocities. If any of my loved ones ever suffered from the hands of someone similar in evil I would greatly struggle to forgive—but God calls us to a difficult task.

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The death of Charles Manson reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’c44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” I am not the judge, jury, and executioner of humanity. Thank goodness! If that would be the case we might all fall short of the glory of God.   

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3 Reasons Why Leaf by Niggle is my Favorite Tolkien Treasure

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As a Middle-earth aficionado, I have read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. Currently, I am navigating the land of Beleriand as I am reading The Children of Húrin. While these books are creative and profound, my personal favorite Tolkien work [so far this may be subject to change!] does not take place in a mythic land or through the medium of an epic adventure tale. Instead, a short story published in 1945 wins my personal Pulitzer. Leaf by Niggle does not follow hobbits, elves, dwarves, or contain any sinister evil such as Sauron or Morgoth. Instead, the plots details of a simple painter’s journey in the afterlife.

The short story begins by depicting Niggle, an artist, living in a society with little esteem for art.  Niggle’s neighbor Parish, who is lame and has an ill wife, continually interrupts his work. Although Niggle views such disruptions as annoying, he still helps his neighbor due to his politeness.

Niggle is forced to take a trip that he is not ready for and spends time at a hospital. Daily work as a gardener is the task that he is entrusted with during his time at the health institution. Throughout this process, the reader hears two unseen voices discuss the progress of Niggle.

It is determined that the artist made advancements and is sent to a new country—the Land of the Tree and Forest of his great painting. Niggle becomes re-united with Parish and together they work the land. Their work brings beauty to the Tree and the Forest. Finally, Niggle bids farewell to Parish as he continues his journey with the shepherd to learn more about the sheep and journey toward the high pastures in the Mountains.

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Clearly Catholic

 The main reason I enjoy Leaf by Niggle is due to the clear catholicity contained within the characters, plot, and symbols. Niggle represents everyman—humanity as an individual and as a collective. When I looked up the word niggle in the thesaurus, I learned that the name has synonyms which included: annoy, bother, discomfort, and anxiety. According to Lumen Gentium [Dogmatic Constitution of the Church]  7, “On earth, still as pilgrims in a strange land, tracing in trial and in oppression the paths He trod, we are made one with His sufferings like the body is one with the Head, suffering with Him, that with Him we may be glorified.” Niggle also suffered various disturbances of his artwork while he was on a pilgrim journey.

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Another example of how Tolkien clearly infused Catholic thought into his short story is the hospital being an allegory for the cleansing process of purgatory.  Next, the Voices represent the judgment and mercy of God. The English writer conveys the balanced Catholic approach to Divine Mercy and Judgment through the dialogue between the voices on Niggle’s progress:

“Now the Niggle case,” said a Voice, a severe voice, more severe than the doctor’s.

“What was the matter with him?” said a Second Voice, a voice that you might have called gentle, though it was not soft-it was a voice of authority, and sounded at once hopeful and sad. “What was the matter with Niggle? His heart was in the right place.”

“Yes, but it did not function properly,” said the First Voice. “And his head was not screwed on tight enough: he hardly ever thought at all. Look at the time he wasted, not even amusing himself! He never got ready for his journey. He was moderately well-off, and yet he arrived here almost destitute, and had to be put in the paupers’ wing. A bad case, I am afraid. I think he should stay some time yet.”

“It would not do him any harm, perhaps,” said the Second Voice. “But, of course, he is only a little man. He was never meant to be anything very much; and he was never very strong. Let us look at the Records. Yes. There are some favourable points, you know.”

“Perhaps,” said the First Voice; “but very few that will really bear examination.”

“Well,” said the Second Voice, “there are these. He was a painter by nature. In a minor way, of course; still, a Leaf by Niggle has a charm of its own. He took a great deal of pains with leaves, just for their own sake. But he never thought that that made him important. There is no note in the Records of his pretending, even to himself, that it excused his neglect of things ordered by the law.”

“Then he should not have neglected so many,” said the First Voice.

“All the same, he did answer a good many Calls.”

I am niggle 

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I am Niggle

 Probably the biggest takeaway I received from Leaf by Niggle this that the titular character mirrors traits found within myself. While Niggle engrossed himself in artwork, I often find myself absorbed in my hobbies of reading and writing. Daily disturbances—such as assisting neighbors in need—annoy Niggle, but he ultimately does the right thing, just not always out of love. In a similar fashion, I struggle to carry out my familial and employee duties without ever lamenting or finding these tasks bothersome. At the end of the day, I will complete my duty because it is right and moral. What I sometimes lack is serving my family and co-workers with love all the time!

Tolkien’s ability to depict the rawness and realness of Niggle urged me to re-read this short story almost immediately upon completing it the first time. As an idealist, I am often color-blind to the real-life situations and toils of daily living. Leaf by Niggle provides clarity into how God judges a person’s life. I am hopeful, yet realistic about God’s mercy and realize I have a purgative road ahead of me in this life [and likely the next life!].

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Purgatory is a Real Process

 According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1030, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” Niggle’s trip to the hospital and the Land of the Tree and Forest represent the Christian doctrine of purgatory—a state of existence whereby souls are purified. Purgatory is an ephemeral existence, it is not permanent. It is a stage toward Heaven. However, the process of purgation is not ethereal, it involves a REAL PROCESS of perfection.

Tolkien utilizes allegory to capture this truth. He details concrete examples to describe the purgative experience. Death is the doorway that leads mankind toward purgation [this is assuming they led an imperfect life, but ultimately choose to follow God!]. In Leaf by Niggle, Tolkien represents Death via two character’s the Inspector of Homes and the Driver—brings Niggle to the hospital [i.e. Purgatory]. Listen to the conversation between Death and Niggle:

“Next day he felt a good deal better. He climbed the ladder, and began to paint. He had just begun to get into it again, when there came a knock on the door.

“Damn!” said Niggle. But he might just as well have said “Come in!” politely, for the door opened all the same. This time a very tall man came in, a total stranger.

“This is a private studio,” said Niggle. “I am busy. Go away!”

“I am an Inspector of Houses,” said the man, holding up his appointment-card, so that Niggle on his ladder could see it. “Oh!” he said.

“Your neighbour’s house is not satisfactory at all,” said the Inspector.

“I know,” said Niggle. “I took a note to the builders a long time ago, but they have never come. Then I have been ill.”

“I see,” said the Inspector. “But you are not ill now.”

“But I’m not a builder. Parish ought to make a complaint to the Town Council, and get help from the Emergency Service.”

“They are busy with worse damage than any up here,” said the Inspector. “There has been a flood in the valley, and many families are homeless. You should have helped your neighbour to make temporary repairs and prevent the damage from getting more costly to mend than necessary. That is the law. There is plenty of material here: canvas, wood, waterproof paint.”

“Where?” asked Niggle indignantly.

“There!” said the Inspector, pointing to the picture.

“My picture!” exclaimed Niggle.

“I dare say it is,” said the Inspector. “But houses come first. That is the law.”

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St. Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.” We do not know the hour of our death. Just how Niggle failed to be fully prepared to meet death, we might be surprised at the end of this earthly existence. Thankfully, due to the mercy of God, a process/period of purgation exists. Any lover of Tolkien and Christian allegory will find enjoyment while reading Leaf by Niggle.

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