mercy and kindness

Editorial: Show mercy first, and then ask questions

We should start with mercy and calculate afterwards, thinks Joseph Evans after reading this week’s Adamah Media articles.

Mercy is not selective. It does not pick and choose. As the previous pope beautifully put it: “Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbour.” Hence our decision to reach out or not to another should be based uniquely on the practical feasibility of doing so, not on whether the possible recipient is to our liking. When we start thinking about our personal likes or dislikes, hardness of heart is seeping in and mercy leaking out.


One recent Adamah article considered the Victorian tendency to distinguish between the worthy and the unworthy poor; the former were judged to deserve help, the latter not. And its author, Adam Brocklehurst, lamented that this attitude is still very much alive today – perhaps in us too: “Many of us still believe that there are those who deserve our help and those who emphatically do not.”


But the very nature of mercy is not to make distinctions.

Mercy is not based on what people deserve. That is something very different, justice. But as important as justice is (imagine a world without justice – or rather, no need to imagine: just look at dictatorial societies where the rule of law does not function), it needs tempering by mercy so as not to be cruel.


Mercy is a heart wounded by the misery of another. It reveals itself in its speed to act, with a sort of noble impetuosity. It is practical but not pragmatic. It certainly finds all sorts of nitty-gritty ways to support others in their need. Mercy means food, blankets, sanitary products and creative solutions to make time and space for others. But it disregards selfish calculations about whether we can afford it, or what consequences might arise, or how it might unbalance our society. 


Mercy acts first and thinks later. 

And a person of faith in particular trusts that God has inspired that merciful act in them, will give them the means to carry it through and will take care of its consequences.


Yet (and this is the miracle of mercy) no matter how much we lose through showing mercy – time, money, security – we always end up winning. Mercy shakes up our structures but always enriches our personal and social life. Put simply, if we give, we gain.


Various Adamah articles this week are written with this spirit and challenge us to be challenged – but also enriched – by the needs of others.

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Fr Joseph Evans is a Catholic priest and member of the Opus Dei prelature. He has been a journalist and youth worker, and is currently a university chaplain in Oxford. He is co-founder and Editorial Director of Adamah, which he sees as bringing together some of his great passions: good writing, intelligent and honest discussion, and helping young people achieve their full potential.

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