In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures on the Sabbath. The Pharisees are shocked by His acts of mercy, which appear to them as impropriety. Here we see that mercy can look radical, even unseemly, to those who have not contemplated their own need for it. If we do not realize that God bent down to the level of lowly humanity and redeemed us from our own filth, then we will not see a need to sacrifice our own well-being, our own customs and traditions, our own personal time of rest, for the sake of showing mercy to others.
The Pharisees were well acquainted with the idea of God’s justice, but they did not consider the idea that they could not be saved by the law alone. They thought of themselves as without fault, but the truth was that they, too, desperately needed His mercy. Yet when Jesus stood before them, pouring out His mercy freely, they were scandalized.
St. Martin de Porres, born a poor, fatherless mulatto in sixteenth-century Lima, exemplified God’s mercy to those most in need. His great capability for mercy came from his great humility: he was very much aware that everything given to him was an unmerited gift. He faced racism and ridicule with composure and grace and became a volunteer servant at a Dominican priory, since he could not enter as a brother due to his race. Eventually, seeing his holy demeanor, the prior made an exception for Martin and allowed him to take vows as a lay Dominican, which drew the derision and disapproval of some of the other brothers. Martin, however, was never concerned with his own reputation, or what he could gain for himself, but rather with how he could pour himself out for God and for others. He was tireless in serving the poor and needy. When an aged beggar, covered with ulcers, approached him, Martin took him to rest in his own bed. One of the Dominican brothers admonished him, but Martin replied, “Compassion, my dear brother, is preferable to cleanliness.”
Our friend Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, another lay Dominican like St. Martin de Porres, was also unafraid to draw close to the poor and destitute. When someone asked him how he could stand the smell of being amid such squalor, he replied, “Jesus comes to me every morning in Communion, and I return the visit by going to serve the poor.” Pier Giorgio was keenly aware of the fact that to Jesus, he was as filthy as can be, a pitiful creature with whom God showered unmerited love. Because he was filled with gratitude for God’s mercy, he was he able to show mercy to the poor and sick without reservation. He poured himself out even to the point of death, contracting poliomyelitis from one of his visits and dying at the age of twenty-four.
God’s justice could have been satisfied with or without Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross, but His mercy cried out for our redemption. Let us rejoice at His great mercy for us, open our arms to receive His healing grace, and be ready to joyfully extend His mercy to others.
1. Portrait of St. Martin de Porres / Monastery of St. Rose of Lima / PD-US
2. Portrait of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati / photo by Luciana Frassati / PD-US