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An Excellent Resource on Every Essential Aspect of Spirituality

Book: The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality
Editor: Michael Downey
The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, pp. 1083


Excerpt from Book:

Mercy is the compassionate care for others whereby one takes on the burden of another as one's own. It is an active quality of the virtue of charity, motivated by love. While mercy is often treated as a rather benign term, its power is conveyed more accurately by looking at it in a scriptural context.

"Mercy" is used as the translation of three Hebrew words, the most common one being "hesed," which has a broad range of meaning. It is the convenanted love between Abraham and Sarah, David and Jonathan, and Yahweh and the people. It is mutual and enduring, implying action on both parts.

"Rahamim", the plural form of "womb," is also translated as "mercy." God's mercy is a nurturing womb, implying a physical response and demonstrating that mercy is felt in the center of one's body. This dimension of mercy also requires action.

Also translated "mercy" is the Hebrew "hen/hanan," meaning "grace" or "favor." Unlike the other terms, this is a free gift, with no mutuality either implied or expected. Not necessarily enduring, this quality is dependent solely on the giver and usually occurs between unequals.

Taken together, these three roots give us an understanding of God's mercy in the OT. It is best demonstrated by Hosea and Jeremiah, who use the analogy of marriage between Yahweh and Israel, showing us that mercy is the fruit of the covenant, forgiving as well as caring and nurturing.

Jesus is the most eloquent witness to mercy in the NT. He is never vague in his proclamation of God's mercy, and rather than using parables or discourses, he reveals God's mercy in his everyday relations with people from all strata of society. Jesus is an active agent of God's mercy confronting the crowd about to stone the women taken in adultery, meeting the Samaritan woman at the well, weeping with the other mourners at the death of Lazarus, and ultimately taking up the cross laden with the sins of the world and being led to his death.

According to MT. 25:31-46, mercy will be the quality on which the Christian will ultimately be judged. This understanding of the necessity of mercy was also developed in the early Church, particularly in the Didache, which went so far as to state that those who have no mercy will be condemned.

Table of Contents:

Topics range from abandonment to God, Anxiety, Depression, Devotions, Early Christian Spirituality, Global Consciousness, Healing, and Holiness to Jesuit Spirituality, Franciscan Spirituality, Monasticism, Preferential Option for the Poor, Protestant Spiritualities, Priestly Spirituality, Prophecy, Transcendence, and Third Orders.