Human and Divine Mercy
St. Caesarius of Arles
Early Church Father
This excerpt from a sermon preached by St. Caesarius of Arles (Sermo 25, 1: CCL 103, 111-112) is used in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings for Monday of the 17th week in ordinary time with the accompanying biblical text drawn from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor 8:1-12). His point of departure is one of the beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew, Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." He exorts us to become "mercy's slaves" extolling the beauty of human and divine mercy.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. ‘Mercy’ is a beautiful word: more beautiful still is the thing itself. All men wish to receive it, but the worst thing is that not all of them behave in a way that deserves it. Although everyone wishes to be shown mercy only a few wish to show it.
O man, how can you have the effrontery to ask for what you refuse to give to others? You must show mercy in this world if you want to receive mercy in heaven. So, my dearest brethren, since we all desire mercy, let us make ourselves mercy’s slaves in this world so that she can give us our freedom in the world to come. For there is mercy in heaven and we come to it through earthly mercies. As Scripture says: Lord, your mercy is in heaven.
So there is earthly and heavenly mercy: that is, human and divine. What is human mercy? Exactly this: to have care for the sufferings of the poor. What is divine mercy? Without doubt, to grant forgiveness of sins. Whatever human mercy gives away on the journey, divine mercy pays back when we arrive at last in our native land. For it is God who feels cold and hunger, in the person of the poor. As he himself has said: As much as you have done for the least of these, you have done it for me. What God deigns to give on heaven, he yearns to receive on earth.
What sort of people are we if we want to receive, when God offers, but when God asks, we refuse to give? For when a poor man hungers, it is Christ who suffers want, as he himself has said: I was hungry and you gave me no food. Do not despise the misery of the poor if you want a sure hope of forgiveness for your sins. Christ is hungry now, brethren, in all the poor. He consents to suffer hunger and thirst – and whatever he receives on earth he will give back in heaven.
I ask you, brethren: when you come to church, what do you want? what are you looking for? Is it anything other than mercy? Then give earthly mercy and you will receive the heavenly kind. The poor man asks of you, and you ask of God: the poor man for food, you for eternal life. Give to the beggar what you want to deserve from Christ. Hear Christ saying Give and it will be given to you. I do not know how you can have the effrontery to want to receive what you do not want to give. And so, when you come to church, give, whatever you can afford as alms for the poor.