In his play The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote, “The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” (Act IV, Scene I). In his Lenten message, Pope Francis echoes the words of the Bard, writing, “God’s mercy transforms hearts; it enables us, through the experience of a faithful love, to become merciful in turn … Divine mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
Sometimes it is good to refresh our memory on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that, “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.”
“These works,” the Pope continues, “remind us that faith finds expression in concrete everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them. On such things will we be judged; for this reason I expressed my hope that ‘the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy; this will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty, and to enter more deeply into the heart of the Gospel where the poor have a special experience of God’s mercy.’ ”
We must keep in mind that the poor include not only those in poverty but those poor in spirit, of whom Our Holy Father writes, “The real poor are revealed as those who refuse to see themselves as such. They consider themselves rich, but they are actually the poorest of the poor. This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they are only poor beggars … [but] by touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they too are poor and in need.”
Therefore, mercy is not just something that is to be received. It should move us to be merciful to others so that the double blessing is not simply the giving and receiving, but being inspired by mercy to be merciful to others.