A popular prayer, the Salve Regina, refers to the Mother of God by the title Mother of Mercy. It makes sense because Jesus Christ is the visible manifestation of the Father’s mercy. And being herself without stain of selfishness or sin, Mary can grasp the complexity of our human condition, and help us confront the challenges we face from forces both internal and external that relentlessly attempt to pry us from the Father’s side. As mother to the child, the teenager, and the grown-up Jesus, Mary was in a unique position to teach and model for her Son the ways of compassion and mercy.
Now it is likely that certain people are predisposed to be loving, compassionate, and merciful. We may even have crossed paths with them on our journey through life. Such people, like the Virgin of Nazareth, are among the most naturally kindhearted and gentle, patient and forgiving people to ever walk the earth. We can see Mary teaching her Son that people are to be treated with kindness and patience and respect, not that Jesus would behave otherwise, but rather, that it was Mary’s singular role as his mother to teach him and show him how it is done. So we can also see her sitting by her Son’s throne in heaven, our advocate to plead our cause. She knows that we, her children, are flawed, that we are weak, that we will stumble, and take time to learn. She intercedes for us before the throne of God. She desires to bring us closer to God. And if God is himself mercy and compassion beyond measure, and his mother our most gracious advocate, how could we ever doubt God’s genuine care and concern for our welfare?
As Mother of Mercy, the Immaculate Virgin is that rare teacher and example for the rest of her children of what it means to be more like Jesus her Son, who is the face of the Father’s mercy. Most of us are not naturally predisposed to be loving, patient, kind, compassionate, and merciful. Instead, quite the opposite. We can claim maturity and prudence, sophistication and levelheadedness. But we still tend to take offense easily. We take a lot of things personally—every word, every gesture, every innocent and often unintended slight. We can be petty, vicious, and unforgiving. We will offer to act justly and reasonably, but with the same breath will not hesitate to speak of unrelenting vengeance for every transgression until our foes are obliterated. And then we will be smug in our righteousness, careful to not betray even the slightest hint of compassion. We will refer to arrogance as strength. We will proclaim our hubris, and consider it qualification for public service. No one campaigns for political office on forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy. Well, Nelson Mandela. But really, no one else would dare.
Instead, as people of goodwill, and more so as Christians, mercy and compassion are virtues we will need to learn. And like a lot of things we need to learn, we will need effective teachers, experienced mentors, and knowledgeable guides who possess the necessary understanding and passion, and are intentional about what they must accomplish. And we will need credible examples to model the appropriate behaviors. Ideally, our teachers, mentors, guides, and examples are the same people. That way, the intended outcome has a greater hope of success. Mercy is a our Christian responsibility.
So what do we need to learn? We need to learn first and foremost, what mercy is and what it is not. We can look to the example of God himself, and Sacred Scriptures abound with such lessons. But we need to be able to clearly distinguish between who God tells us he is and who other people say he is. Incidentally, if Jesus is the very face of the Father’s mercy and the fullness of the revelation of God, anything anywhere else in the bible that is not consistent with who Jesus is in the Gospels will have to take a back seat. Let me repeat that, and you can quote me. If Jesus is the very face of the Father’s mercy and the fullness of the revelation of God, anything anywhere else in the bible that is not consistent with who Jesus is in the Gospels will have to take a back seat.
In the account from the book of Genesis, God encounters our first parents in their moment of pure weakness. They had just committed a grave offense against God. The specifics of their offense don’t really matter. It’s just that insignificant mortal creatures that they were, they had just given the Eternal and Almighty God the proverbial finger. Justice demanded God hold them accountable for their insubordination. God should never have trusted them, but God did. We can all agree God should have known better. But with great mercy, God chose not to cut them off completely when he dismissed them from the garden. God gave them hope that he desired reconciliation, and that he had already set a plan in motion to bring it about. Only One equal to God could satisfy the demands of God’s justice. God had a plan, and God would bring it to fulfillment. Humanity got off easy. All we would have to do is welcome God’s gift of salvation!
A young girl from Nazareth would play a major role in that great plan. Her acceptance of God’s will in obedience reversed our first parents’ refusal in disobedience. But it was all God’s doing to first grant Mary the privilege of being untouched by sin, the sin that marks us as children of Adam and Eve. God took the initiative to fix what our first parents damaged. God who had every right to exact divine retribution chose instead to extend mercy and forgiveness.
St. Paul puts it beautifully when he wrote that it was “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us … with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us … before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. … He destined us for adoption … in accord with the favor of his will. … In him we were also chosen … so that we might exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.” Despite our sinfulness, God continues to find us and bless us.
God is not one to hold a grudge or seethe with resentment. God does not waste time or energy thinking up ways to reject or punish us. Cruelty and unkindness are not God’s default attitudes. Instead, God seeks always to invite and include, and to bless us with his grace. God is the eternal optimist, that even in the face of hostility, rejection, and defiance, God is not deterred. Instead, God desires to extend genuine care and concern toward all his children, those who are poor, those have suffered harm or injury, and shockingly even toward the arrogant and those who have caused harm. Compassion and mercy are not signs of weakness at all, but evidence of great power and strength.
The Immaculate Virgin Mary embraced her role in the Father’s eternal plan and in her Son’s mission of reconciliation. She desires to draw all people closer to God for the healing of our brokenness. She is Mother of Mercy. She presents us to her Son Jesus, who is the face of the Father’s Mercy, that we might be the face of Jesus to all the world.
Rolo B Castillo © 2015