“Don’t share God’s mercy to others by proxy.”
Fr Catalino Arevalo, SJ spoke these words during a recent recollection. “Many people think that they have already fulfilled Christ’s commandment of love by donating large sums of money to charities and institutions. That is good, but that’s not what our faith asks of us. Christ asks us to go to the peripheries, out of our comfort zones, to be with the poor and help them in their need. That is the true meaning of mercy.”
Oscar Wilde’s story “The Happy Prince” echoes the true meaning of mercy. Its main characters are two friends: the beautiful golden, bejeweled statue of the Happy Prince and a little Swallow. When the story opens, we learn that the Happy Prince was once a real prince who lived a sheltered and carefree life. When he passed away, his people, who loved him so much, commissioned a statue of him to be made and set it up high on a tall column above the city.
One night, a Swallow sought shelter at the feet of the Happy Prince and was surprised to feel on his wings what he thought were drops of rain. The little bird looked up and saw that the gilded statue was shedding tears. When asked by the Swallow, the Happy Prince shared his reason for weeping: there, high up where he was, he witnessed all the suffering and misery of his city. Because of this, the prince felt a deep sorrow for the poor, the hungry, and the lonely.
The Happy Prince then asked the Swallow if he could take the ruby from the hilt of his sword and give it to a poor dressmaker working without sleep on a young woman’s gown. Because he needed to fly south for the winter and because he had other dreams to chase, the Swallow was hesitant at first. But wanting to be a good friend, the Swallow obeyed. He plucked out the ruby from the sword-hilt of the prince and delivered it to the poor dressmaker, who was overjoyed to receive such a precious gift. After doing this act of kindness, the Swallow felt a warm glow within. Perhaps, it was the first spark of mercy in his little heart.
The Happy Prince then asked the Swallow to take his sapphire eyes and give these to a penniless writer and to a girl selling matches. The Swallow, of course, did not want to do it for fear that the prince would go blind. But the Happy Prince pleaded with his friend. With much sadness, the Swallow obeyed and stayed on for two more nights delivering little blue gemstones first to the writer and then to the little match girl. But when the Happy Prince could no longer see, the Swallow decided to stay with him despite the cold.
Now without his vision, the Happy Prince commanded the Swallow to fly through the city and tell him what he saw. The Swallow obeyed and saw for himself the suffering that brought the prince to tears: how the rich basked in comfort while beggars sat hungry at their gates, how the watchmen drove out of their warm corners the street children who huddled under bridges to hide from the cold night air. When the Swallow told his friend all that he had seen, the Prince asked him to take off the gold that covered him bit by bit and give these to the poor. This time, with greater understanding, the Swallow obeyed the prince and peeled the little leaves of gold that covered the statue to distribute these to the needy.
As the Happy Prince grew shabbier each day, the poor who received the gold from the Swallow became healthier and happier. But even the once reluctant Swallow was changed: from being someone inwardly moved by the suffering of others to someone who gave of himself generously through his acts.
Our story ends with God praising the Happy Prince and the Swallow for their sacrifice and love because through them, God’s own mercy flowed and reached those who needed it most.
Wilde’s tale reminds us that true mercy cannot be a mere sentiment or feeling. Rather, true mercy should be manifested in our acts. That is why our Faith insists on works of mercy. These acts concretely bear God’s mercy to those who need it, and not by proxy!
Some works of mercy respond to the material needs of others – alleviating their hunger, thirst, or sickness; others respond to spiritual needs — bringing consolation, enlightenment, or peace to those who need it. Whether, corporal or spiritual, the works of mercy remind us to find those who need God’s mercy, be with them, and generously give of ourselves, heeding Christ’s words, “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
True mercy is not only to be moved, but to move – to act like Christ – with great generosity, sacrifice, and love. On this Jubilee Year, as we continue to reflect on and share God’s mercy to others, let us ask ourselves:
What acts of mercy can I do today especially for those closest to me in my family, in my class, or in school? In what way can I respond to their material needs? In what way can I offer them consolation or enlightenment?
Let us include in our prayer the G11 classes who will go on their Tulong-Dunong exposure trips this week, the participants of the International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu, and the organizers of and guests in our Annual Fair this weekend – all works that seek to bear God’s mercy to others.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, our hope of glory, we thank you for showering us with mercy and grace. Give us hearts to seek those in our homes and in our school who most need your mercy and love, and give us the courage to act with generosity, kindness, and love as we share your goodness and mercy to them. Use all that we are for your greater glory. Amen.