Paulino Sáez López, CM reflects on “The Value of Mercy according to Vincent de Paul.”
Here are five points that struck me from his well-documented article. He writes from the perspective that in the time of Vincent “the words mercy, compassion, and charity have much in common and are often used as synonyms for one another. We could differentiate these words but in the end, we would find ourselves with very imprecise lines of distinction.”
1. Mercy, according to God’s desires, has no limits and in fact, if it is like God’s mercy, it embraces everyone.
Therefore, it is the distinctive duty of priests to procure mercy and to be merciful to criminals … it is not your intention to defend crime but rather to practice mercy (CCD:VII:443).
2. We are not dealing with a mere feeling of compassion which could very easily be some form of sentimentality.
” We have to be very careful about that; for there are many who, recollected exteriorly, and filled with lofty sentiments of God interiorly, stop at that, and when it comes to the point of doing something, and they have the opportunity to act, they come up short (CCD:XI:32-33)
3. Charity was not meant to be a substitute for justice but rather was meant to cry out for justice.
God will grant you the grace, Monsieur, of softening our hearts toward the wretched creatures and of realizing that in helping them we are doing an act of justice and not of mercy (CCD:VII:115).
4. Justice has priority over charity
The obligations of justice have priority over those of charity (CCD:VII:633).
Quoi! To be a Christian and to see our brothers [or sisters] suffering without weeping with them, without being with them! That is to be lacking in charity; it is being a caricature of a Christian; it is inhuman; it is to be worse than animals (CCD:XII:222).
5. Our first obligation is to serve those who are poor… even if it means not going to Mass
If the good pleasure of God were that you should go on a Sunday to nurse a sick person instead of going to Mass, even though that’s a matter of obligation, you should do it. That’s called leaving God for God (CCD:X:76).
Is it any wonder that Saint Vincent worried more about the poor than his Little Company.
If we need to, we could ask for help from our other houses and appeal to the vicar in the parishes. But where can the poor turn? Where can they go? This is my worry and my sorrow (Abelly III:117 – CCD:III:492).
Looking for insights into these questions?
- How do Vincent’s thoughts compare with the teachings of recent Popes?
- How is mercy related to systemic change?
- What is the relationship between justice and mercy?
- Does charity/mercy cry out for justice?
- Which is more important justice or charity?
- Are works of mercy more important than prayer?
Here are other places to view online or download the article for e-readers: