A lesson in mercy

I’d never read The Merchant of Venice until tonight. And I do not have significant exposure to Shakespeare generally. In this Year of Mercy, I found the discussion of mercy and justice very profound. In Act IV, Scene 1, Portia, acting as the judge, is discussing with Shylock his insistence that Antonio pay a pound of flesh to repay his debt. She says (emphasis mine),

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown;
His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty,
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptred sway;
It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this,
That, in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea;
Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

The message is clear, but the saying is hard. Mercy–“an attribute to God himself”–is what we are called to give to others, to season our justice with mercy and thereby act like God.papalconfession

In the last two weeks before the end of this jubilee year, let us be resolute in our commitment to be merciful to others, and to seek mercy from the Lord in the sacrament of confession. I recommend two books to you: (1) Frequent Confession by Benedict Baur and (2) Pardon and Peace by Francis Randolph. These books have been immensely helpful to me and others I know, and I hope that they are equally beneficial to you.

 

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