Receive Mercy, Become Mercy, Offer Mercy

When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy during Lent, our practice is to recite the Beatitudes.

“Blessed are the merciful…”

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.  Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.” (Luke 6.36-38)

The Son of God became like us that we might become like Him.

Us. All of us alike have gone astray, each to his own way. One is not “less astray” than the other. I am not better than my fellow human. I am not worse either. We are all encountered by God in love in our common condition of lost-ness – of hell.

When we begin our life of Christian discipleship, we realize that categories of sin are, in many ways, an attempt to not to achieve justice but to excuse myself and make myself feel “less bad.” We realize that when we judge our brother or sister (see the story Pharisee and publican) we are actually condemning ourselves.

It doesn’t mean we throw judgment out the window and adopt a “whatever” attitude. No, judgment is necessary. It is just that God is the only judge. And, His judgment is not from afar but from the midst of us. Christ is in our midst as the merciful judge. Mercy is the law that governs the whole universe. It is the power that saves the whole universe. It is the law that is at the heart of every authentic relationship. Perhaps that is why, in the Holy Tradition, “Lord have mercy” is the most frequently repeated phrase.

His desire is for you and me to be in the midst of the life of others in the same way by grace. The unceasing phrase within us needs to be, “Lord have mercy.” Be merciful as your Father is merciful. The mercy we receive is the exact mercy we offer. Not a skimpy mercy. That is not mercy. That is judging in noble clothing. Mercy is overflowing, outrageous, and astonishing. It is not, therefore, the mercy I would end up offering. My version of mercy must be crucified. What is raised — born — is the mercy of God in me that I choose to be expressed through me. The mercy I offer is the mercy I have become by grace.

If that is the case, my task is to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit’s desire to address everything in my life that hinders such an inward-outward flow or operates instead of it or contradicts who I am in Christ — my life-giving identity by grace.


“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4.15-16)


You see, then, that Christ has two natures in one Person, one which always was and another which began to be. And according to that nature which was eternally his, he always knew everything. But according to that which began in time, he experienced many things in time. In this way he began to know the miseries of the flesh, by that mode of cognition which the weakness of the flesh instructs.

Our first parents were wiser and happier when they did not know that which they came to know only foolishly and in wretchedness. But God their Creator, seeking what was lost, came down in mercy in pursuit of his wretched creatures, to where they had miserably fallen. He wanted to experience for himself what they were suffering because they had gone against his will. He came not out of a curiosity like theirs, but out of a wonderful charity. He did not intend to remain wretched among them, but to free those who were wretched as one made merciful.

Therefore Christ was made merciful, not with that mercy which he who remained happy had had from eternity, but with that mercy which he discovered in our fleshly garb as he himself went through our misery. SourceSaint Bernard (1091-1153), The Degrees of Humility and Pride, §12


Theophany: Behold the Man — Foolishness or Wisdom?!

Theophany (Epiphany) is the season of the church year in which we focus our attention on manifestation. The manifestation of God to the

That which is hidden is unveiled for all to see. At least those who have eyes to see.

Several passages are traditionally critical: 1) the message of the angels to the shepherds; 2) the visitation of the Magi; 3) the baptism of Jesus by John in the Jordan River; 4) the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate and the lifting up of Jesus’s on the cross for all the world to Adoration of the Magisee.

It is very important, in my opinion, to notice the linkage between Pilate’s words and the prophecy in the book of Zechariah:

12 ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the LORD. 13 “Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the LORD, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.”’ (Zechariah 6.12-13)


1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. 2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face. 4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!” 6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”

8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; 9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19.1-15)


Theophany involves the juxtaposition of the wisdom of the kingdom of this world and the wisdom of the Kingdom of God.

St. Paul speaks of this juxtaposition in ways that reveal it to be a collision, not a friendly encounter.


18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written,
20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
1 And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, 4 and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
6 Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; 7 but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; 8the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory;
9 but just as it is written,
1For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 1For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD.” (1 Corinthians 1.18–2.31)


The wisdom of the Kingdom is madness to the world.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153), speaks of this collision. This location where the manifestation takes place. This place where we show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith, or not…


“They prostrated themselves and did him homage”

God’s intention was not only to come down to earth but to become known there; not only to be born but to be recognised. In fact, it is with this recognition in mind that we hold this celebration of the Epiphany, the great day of his manifestation. For it was today that the Magi came from the East in search of the Sun of Justice at its rising (Mal 3,20), he of whom we read: “Behold a man whose name is the Orient,” (Zec 6,12 Vul.). Today they have adored the Virgin’s newborn child, following the guidance of a new star. What great cause for joy do we not find here, my brethren, as also in those words of the apostle Paul: “The kindness and generous love of God our Saviour have appeared,” (Tit 3,4)…

What is this you are doing, you Magi? What is this you are doing? Are you adoring an infant at the breast in a wretched hovel, wrapped in miserable rags? Can a child such as this really be God? Yet, “The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Ps 11 [10],4) while you are looking for him in a common stable, held in his mother’s arms! Whatever are you doing? Why are you offering him gold? Could such as one as this be king? Where, then, is his royal court, his throne, his crowd of courtiers? Can a stable be a palace, a crib a throne, Mary and Joseph members of his court? How on earth could wise men be so crazy as to adore a baby, as contemptible by reason of his age as for the poverty of his family?

Mad? Yes, they have become so in order to be wise. The Holy Spirit has taught them already what the apostle Paul would later proclaim: “Whoever would be wise, let him become a fool. For since the world, in all its wisdom, did not come to know God in his Wisdom, it has pleased God to save those who believe through the foolishness of the Gospel we proclaim, (cf 1Cor 1,21)… And so they prostrate themselves before this poor child; they do him homage as to a king; they adore him as a God. He who outwardly guided them by a star has cast his light into the interior of their hearts. Source: St. Bernard, 1st Sermon for the Epiphany


How could it be stated more succinctly and precisely, “Mad? Yes, they have become so in order to be wise.” The Shepherds, the Magi, the Martyrs (witnesses), you and me my brothers and sisters – the Mad men and women the sane ones in a mad, mad world.

“Why we should love God and the measure of that love”

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love. bernard of clairvauxIs this plain? Doubtless, to a thoughtful man; but I am debtor to the unwise also. A word to the wise is sufficient; but I must consider simple folk too. Therefore I set myself joyfully to explain more in detail what is meant above.

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the holy, the supreme, the omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak. Some one may urge that this is true of mankind, but not of angels. True, since for angels it was not needful. He who succored men in their time of need, preserved angels from such need; and even as His love for sinful men wrought wondrously in them so that they should not remain sinful, so that same love which in equal measure He poured out upon angels kept them altogether free from sin. On Loving God,” Chapter 1, by St. Bernard of Clairvaux