The Ten Evangelical Virtues of Mary

Ninth Virtue: Mercy

Having a Merciful Heart Means Taking Action

by Felix Carroll

Ten Virtues

click on a ray to view article

A couple months back, I was reminded of how an old legal maxim holds true in our spiritual lives: in case of doubt, it is best to lean to the side of mercy.

My wife, young son, and I went for a long drive on the weekend after Christmas. After a nice day and many miles traveled, we headed homeward. I eventually realized the gas gauge had not budged the whole ride. Lo and behold, 20 minutes later, three miles outside the nearest town, we sputtered to a stop — out of gas.

It was getting dark. It started drizzling. Traffic was zooming by so fast it shook our car. The only thing to do was to get out and try to flag down a motorist to assist us.

For 10 minutes, I stood on the side of the road with my thumb out and silently prayed to Our Blessed Mother for assistance. Motorists would slow down when they saw me, then speed past. I became angered at their callousness.

Cold and wet, I headed back into the car where my wife was making the best of the situation, keeping our son entertained. As I looked at them, I asked myself what I would have done if I saw someone on the side of the road in the darkening night and if I had my family in the car with me. With safety in mind, the reality is I, too, would probably not have stopped.

No sooner had that awful realization hit me than a car pulled up and stopped in front of us. The people inside were a mirror image of us. It was a young couple. They, too, had a young baby in the back seat. The wife rolled her window down and asked if we needed help. I asked if they would be kind enough to get us a gallon of gas.

"Of course," the woman said. "Believe me, we've run out of gas before, too."

They were back in 10 minutes with the gas. I thanked them heartily and paid them for the gas. As I poured the gas into the tank, I prayed to Mary again, thanking her — for the fuel and a great lesson in mercy!

Being merciful means having an attitude of compassion toward the misery and needs of others. But that attitude must also translate into action. Having a merciful heart often requires selflessness and sacrifice, such as that exhibited by the couple who assisted my family.

Ever since that day on the side of the road, I've been asking myself whether I open my heart enough to those in need of mercy. The answer is no, not enough. But I'm working on it, using Our Blessed Mother as a model.

Mary, who is called Most Merciful, led a life in service of others. While untold sufferings awaited her, she chose to become the Mother of God for the love of sinful man. She brought forth for us Jesus Christ — Mercy Incarnate. Mary, who is never distant to those who are sick or being persecuted or lacking, shows us how to live with an open heart.

Think of Mary nourishing the Child Jesus with her own milk. Think of how Mary saved the Child Jesus from the persecution of Herod by carrying Him to Egypt (Mt 2:14).

Think of Mary's concern for the wedding couple at Cana when the wine ran out: Jesus heard Mary's prayer and worked His first miracle by changing water into wine (Jn 2:1-11).

In the Rule of the Ten Evangelical Virtues, we are told how we are to cultivate mercy in our own lives in imitation of Mary. The Rule says we nourish Jesus with milk when we "love with holy feelings none other than Christ." We carry Christ to Egypt by "meditating in times of temptation on death." We minister wine and instructions to our neighbors by practicing the "corporal and spiritual works of mercy."

Like Mary did when she remained with her cousin Elizabeth for three months before the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1:56), we must hold others' needs above our own.

Look around at this broken world. Be sensitive to those in distress — to the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the sick, and the sorrowful. Pray. Forgive. Comfort. And always lean to the side of mercy.

"Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge," William Shakespeare wrote.

Indeed, Mary, who is sometimes called the "Queen of Mercy," invites us to join her noble family.











Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful Merciful