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What to do when showing mercy to others is difficult

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Elizabeth Scalia - published on 08/01/16

Sometimes before we can let something go and offer forgiveness, we have to first get naked at the soul-ular level

We’ve all done it. We’ve all rationalized why, even though we know we are called to be merciful and forgiving to others, it shouldn’t count this time, in this instance. About that guy.

Intellectually, we know that withholding forgiveness just ends up hurting us, while it has little effect on the “other.”

In our hearts we know it, too.

But in our souls?

In our souls, we wrestle with forgiveness; we tie ourselves in knots trying not to get pinned down by an instinct of the mind and heart that tells us we should find a way to mercy — if not for “their” sakes, then for our own, and for the sake of the world.

When it comes down to the “soul-ular level,” we still find that last resistance: “Yeah, yeah, we’re all sinners, I get that. Yes, we’re all in need of mercy, I know that. Still though…she’s awful!”

I felt that way a few years ago when a family member who knew I was looking for a particular picture found it and then kept it for herself. A small thing, I know, but I was pretty angry about it — angry along those “What am I, chopped liver?” lines and the “She only wanted it because she knew I wanted it first” lines.

More to read:Who is on your enemy list? Don’t pretend you don’t have one…

I stewed about this idiot situation for a long time, because it played into a lot of old tapes and bad habits. The internal noise about being the least important person in my family (“When I had Elizabeth, I threw away the baby and kept the afterbirth” was my mother’s favorite joke); the bad habit-unto-sin of jumping from suspicion to judgment.

It took a long time to let it go — I’m ashamed to say how long. I couldn’t come to peace about it until I really took a hard look at what that family member had lived through, and tried to understand the need behind the action. Maybe that person really did want it more than I did, or — more importantly — needed it more than I did, in order to have a connection to something good amid all the bad. Maybe, I realized in the end, this person was carrying wounds deeper than my own, and this picture somehow packed the wound a little more completely, in hopes that someday the bleeding would stop.

I didn’t come to that conclusion all by my wise little self, but was helped enormously by Cardinal Merry del Val to whom the Litany of Humility is attributed — or whose writings are believed to have inspired it.

When I joke about resistance at the “soul-ular level,” I’m only half in jest. The truth is, this efficacious little prayer strips you down to it very quickly, and forces you to realize how often the mercy you are withholding from others is wrapped up in the need to feel better about the self, when it’s not always the best way to go about attaining that desire.

That’s just one reason why it’s good to take a cue from suggestion #33 in our list of 56 ways to practice mercy in this Jubilee Year of Mercy, and really take this prayer to heart.

The Litany of Humility

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

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Practicing Mercy
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