The Obligation of Mercy Towards Our Neighbor

The following article by Blessed Michael Sopocko was first published in the July-Sept. 1962 issue of the Marian Helpers Bulletin. Blessed Michael was the confessor and spiritual director of St. Faustina.

"Let us practice generosity to all while the opportunity is ours; and above all, to those who are of one family with us in the faith" (Gal 6:10)

There is nothing more beautiful than the virtue of mercy. The essence of perfection is the love of God, but it is impossible without actively loving one's neighbor, and for this reason, St. John the Apostle call him a liar, who says that he loves God and does not bestow mercy upon his neighbor (1 Jn 4:7-21). The virtue of mercy is the bond of brotherhood among men, a loving mother who aids and consoles all those who suffer, and the representation of Divine Providence, because she has a watchful eye for the necessities of each one. This is above all the representation of God's mercy as Our Savior said "Be merciful therefore even as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). We must understand that this virtue is not merely recommended, but is a strict obligation for every Christian.

There are many who have a mistaken notion about the virtue of mercy. They think that by doing merciful deeds they are merely performing a kindness and sacrifice which is dependent upon our will and upon our good heart. But, it is altogether different. The virtue of mercy is not only a counsel which one may practice as he wishes, but is a strict law and obligation. No one is free to set aside the fulfillment of this obligation. This obligation arises from Holy Scripture, from the voice of reason and from the relationship between ourselves and our fellowmen.

That this virtue is of strict obligation for all, can be found in the Old Testament. In the books of Moses we read: "I must needs warn thee, then, to be open-handed towards thy brother, they fellow countrymen, when he is poor and in want" (Det 15:11). The author of the Book of Wisdom puts no less positive an emphasis on the virtue of Mercy when he says: "Let not mercy and truth leave thee, put them about thy neck, and write them in the tablets of thy heart." (Prov 3:3). "My son, do not cheat a poor man of the alms he asks, nor pass him by with an averted look, in his need. Wouldst thou despise his hungry glance and add to the burden of his distress? Wouldst thou disappoint him in his bitter need by bidding him wait for the gift? No, spurn thou never the plea of the afflicted; look thy poor in the face and of his poverty take good heed; shall his baffled rage curse thee behind thy back? If he be oppressed, thou needs must win him or be vexed by importunity" (Eccl 4:1-9).

Our Savior places still a higher degree of the obligation of mercy upon us. In speaking about the last Judgment He places the following decree upon the lips of the Judge: "Go for you that are accursed, into that eternal fire which has been prepare for the devil and his angels" (Mt 25:45). In spite of our will, we wish to ask the Lord, why does he banish them for eternity? Were they evil, impious, murderers, or unchaste? This could well be but the Judge is not banishing them for this, the only reason for this banishment is lack of merciful deeds towards our neighbors "For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in; I was naked and you did not clothe me; I was sick and in prison and you did not care for me... I say to you, when you refused it to one of the least of my brethren, you refused it to me" (Mt 25:42-45). After reading these words of Jesus Christ, there is no need to prove the face that the virtue of mercy is a strict obligation, for God being all just, cannot punish for that which is not commanded. This virtue is indubitably a great commandment, since for lack of it our Savior threatens condemnation.

The natural voice of reason likewise commands us to practice the virtue of mercy. Earthly goods are not our property in the strict sense of the word, but belong to God, Who in His eternal wisdom distributes them not on an equal basis, but in such a way as though they were leased out and we paid Him a definite amount for the leasing of such goods. Therefore, offering to God a certain portion of our goods is a duty commanded by our conscience. Just as prayer and religious exercises are obligations of every human being, in the same way, there is an obligation to give a portion of earthly goods to God as is stated in Holy Writ: "Pay the Lord His due with what goods thou hast letting him share the first fruits of every crop" (Prov 3:9). This God, Who has the right to our wealth transfers the right to the poor, who are, as it were, His heirs in this regard and into whose hands we can place the portion belonging to God. "The hand of the poor person is the money-box of God" says St. Peter Chrysologus. Since therefore we owe a portion of what we have to God, and God gave over this portion for the poor, thus we have a strict obligation to give this portion to the poor. From this obligation no one is free and we can conceive by this the crimes a wealthy person allows himself to fall into when he fails to share his riches with the poor. He who unjustly hold back that which belongs ot the poor is a very ungrateful person. He who enriches himself with the misery of his fellow man is a steward without conscience. He is the cause of the tears, moanings and even at times, blasphemies of the injured one. Saint James the Apostle calls out: "Is it not the rich who use their power to oppress you (the poor). Are they not the very men who drag you into court, the very men who speak evil of that honored name, by which you are called" (Jas 2:6-7). And again the same apostle says: "Come you men of riches, bemoan yourselves and cry aloud over the miseries that are to overtake you. Corruption has fallen on your riches; all your fine clothes are left moth-eaten, and your gold and silver have long lain rusting. The rust will bear witness against you and will bite into your flesh like a flame" (Jas 5: 1-3).

In the last place brotherhood calls us to the obligation of mercy toward our fellow men, since we all constitute one family, which joins us with sacred bones. WE are all the children of the same Creator whom we rightfully call Father. We have all been redeemed by the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and have been jointly predestined in eternal happiness. In particular we are one by the same Faith having a common Mother under the leadership of one Pastor. It is for this reason that Our Savior strongly recommends such brotherly love, even as He prayed before His Passion saying: "Holy Father keep in Thy Name these whom Thou has given me, that they may be one as we are one; that they too may be one in us as Thou Father in Me, and I in Thee" (Jn 17:11, 21).

The one-ness of brotherhood cannot simply be an empty expression, as we are warned by St. John the Apostle when he says: "My little children, let us show our love by the true test of action, not by mere phrases on our lips" (1 Jn 3:18). We ought to demonstrate these words in merciful deeds which are commanded us by God and indicated to us by our reason and conscience. "Mercy shown and justice done win the Lord's favor beyond any sacrifice" (Prov 21:3). This is true piety as is stated by St. James the Apostle when he says: "If he is to offer service pure and unblemished in the sight of God, Who is our Father, he must take care of orphans and widows in their needs" (Jas 1:27). This is the blossom of Christian Life, without which we shall come under that terrible threat, "The merciless will be judged mercilessly" (Jas 2:13).

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"In the confessional it became apparent that she knew things that no one under normal circumstances could know about," says Fr. Seraphim.

During the temporary ban of the Divine Mercy devotion, Blessed Michael Sopocko (St. Faustina's confessor) wrote for our Marian Helpers Bulletin.