Blessed are You: Finding Inspiration from our Sisters in Faith by Melanie Rigney examines each of the beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew and offers the example of four female saints or blesseds who put that beatitude into practice. Living the beatitudes are "a way to follow Jesus. They lay out an exceedingly difficult way to live," but these women show us that it is doable."
Today, I have the pleasure of discussing Ch. 5 on Mercy. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy." Matthew 5:7
How do we show mercy to others? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, there are two sets of merciful acts that we are called to perform. One set is corporal, or having to do with the body. These include "feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead." The second set of merciful acts are spiritual, including "instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, . . . forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently." (CCC 2447)
As Rigney emphasizes, some works of mercy are fairly easy to perform, while others may require an incredible amount of self-sacrifice. Yet, despite the amount of effort utilized to carry out these works of mercy, it is important to remember that "whether it's a corporal or spiritual work, there's no quid pro quo here through which we offer mercy and then the recipient cries and tells us what great Christians we are. Often, our offering will be ignored, scoffed at, or denigrated. That doesn't matter. We offer mercy because we love God; we love the person no matter how appreciative or unappreciative he or she is of the offering; and we love ourselves. We offer mercy because God has given and continues to give it to us without reservation or limit."
Rigney offers Mother Teresa, Maria Korlowska, Frances Xavier Cabrini, and Elizabeth Canori Mora as role models for this beatitude. While Mother Teresa and Frances Cabrini are well-known, Maria Korlowska and Elizabeth Mora are probably new to you. Maria founded the Sisters of the Good Shepherd of Divine Providence, a community devoted to those who were lost morally, especially prostitutes. They helped these women learn marketable skills so that they could support themselves and provided medical care for any STDs they might have had, as well as providing religious instruction for any who might want it.
While she did minister to the poor, Elizabeth's main venue for carrying out works of mercy was within her own family, offering a role model for those who suffer in difficult marriages. "She did a lot of praying" especially for her wayward husband. While she didn't live to see it, he reformed his life after her death, eventually becoming a Franciscan priest.
We are all called to perform works of mercy every day. For mothers, those acts are often within one's own home, but whether we are ministering to our own families or going out to minister to the world at large, we must always remember to act out of love. We show others mercy because God has shown mercy to us, and we are called to love our neighbor as ourself.