The Fifth Beatitude: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Mt 5:7)
So far in this novena we have considered Mary’s spiritual poverty, her ability to mourn, her meekness and her thirst for righteousness. We have not only considered how she lived out these beatitudes, but also how we are called to follow her example.
Whereas in Mary’s life, the first four beatitudes magnify her God-given goodness, in our lives they aim at removing the obstacles to doing good: attachments, endless comfort, anger, and self-admiration. The tone changes, however, with the fifth beatitude. The call to mercy is about producing good. And here also, Mary sets the example.
In the Gospels we find that the first good that Mary produced after conceiving the Good Shepherd, was an act of mercy.
During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah. (Lk 1:39)
Mary is in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth is an elderly woman. She is also a childless woman; known among her relatives and neighbors as the woman called barren (Lk 1:36). But God has removed her shame. He has taken away her misery. Six months have now passed since her son’s miraculous conception.
Mary is in haste to help Elizabeth. Fulton Sheen writes that,
Life for the world is a struggle for existence in which victory belongs only to the egotists. Liberality, generosity, and graciousness are rare. How often the world insists on “rights,” how rarely does it emphasize “duties”; how often it uses the possessive “mine,” and how rarely the generous “thine.” How full it is of “courts of justice,” but how few are its “courts of mercy.”
Mary is in haste as an ambassador of the “court of mercy”. She fulfills this task in two ways.
First, Mary becomes the new bearer of Mercy. In the Old Testament, God’s mercy seat rested over the ark of the covenant. Upon it would be sprinkled the blood of the annual expiatory sacrifice of atonement. In bearing the Christ in her womb, she bears the New and Eternal Sacrifice. Christ’s Precious Blood shed during His Passion and on the Cross will be the definitive act of atonement. His Blood will atone for the sins of the whole world, making Him the Font of Mercy. Thus, through Christ, in bearing Him as His mother, does Mary fulfill the Old Testament figure as the New Ark of the Covenant.
Second, Mary fulfills her task as ambassador by enacting a work of mercy. As mother she is also helper. She makes her way to the home of Elizabeth to offer her help. To help care for the new, but also aged, mother-to-be.
In both ways Mary models for us the beatitude of mercy, which calls us to forgive and to give.
As forgiveness, being merciful calls us first to seek God’s mercy. Repentance for one’s sins and the experience of God’s mercy is the first step on the path of conversion. It is a step that must also be repeated.
This is not to say that all of us are necessarily habitual sinners—I imagine that a number of you reading this have firmly resolved to sin no more—but it does mean that the process of sanctification is a process of deeper conversion. Sanctification is a process that deepens our understanding of sin and of the wonder of God’s mercy. It is a process that involves a greater sensitivity to the Lord’s grace and mercy, such that no temptation to sin can ever appear as good, but that all good things must share in the true goodness of God’s love. It is a process that liberates our will from the undertow that wishes to draw us back to the slavery of sin.
This sensitivity to God’s mercy will also produce in us a sensitivity towards the misery of others, thus urging us to act in mercy towards them. Acting in mercy involves both forgiving others and giving to others. Mary’s presence at Elizabeth’s side especially teaches us about the latter: giving to others. She teaches us how to live the beatitude of mercy through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Mary especially witnesses to the fact that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are born of the experience of God’s mercy. “Beyond the spontaneous feelings of family sentiment,” Mary stands at Elizabeth’s side as a helper because the Almighty has done great things for her. In her he has remembered His promise of mercy for His mercy is from age to age.
Mary’s example teaches us that in the divine sequence of things mercy goes before and after our works of mercy. God’s mercy is both the catalyst and the compensation of our acts of mercy.
Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. (Mt 5:7)
Mary’s earthly life is marked by the reception of mercy. She not only received mercy as an anticipation of Christ’s coming through Her immaculate conception, but also at the conclusion of His life. The reward for being a merciful mother was given to her in a unique way at the Cross, when her Son refused to leave her childless.
Woman, behold, your son. (Jn 19:26)
It was a bittersweet exchange: sinful children in exchange for the Sinless One. But Mary welcomed it. It was an opportunity to continue her work of mercy, working to bring God’s mercy into the lives of men and women, into my life and yours. Mary is the Mother of Christ. She is the Refuge of Sinners. She is the Mother of Mercy.
As we contemplate her quick steps along the dusty roads of the Judean hillside and as we watch her attend to Elizabeth’s needs as an expecting mother, we can reflect upon ourselves and ask:
Am I on the path of continuous conversion? Am I frequently availing myself of God’s mercy in the Sacrament of Confession? Towards others, am I slow to anger and quick to forgive, or am I quick to anger and slow to forgive? What corporal or spiritual work of mercy is God calling me act on in solidarity with my neighbor?
Seize the day and make it all Hers!
Fr. Christopher Etheridge, IVE
 The Cross and the Beatitudes, Ch. 2, “The Second Word”.
 St. John Paul II, General Audience of Wednesday, 2 October, 1996 (Italian / Spanish). English translation available in Theotókos: Woman, Mother, Disciple : a Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God (Pauline Books & Media, 1998), and on EWTN’s collection of texts of John Paul II reproduced from the Osservatore Romano.