Sister Maryellen Thomas rsj recalls the American westerns of her childhood and what the films taught her on the nature of mercy.
As a young child, I often watched American Westerns on television.
Almost always, there was a scene where the "goodie" had the "baddie" on his knees pleading for mercy. Back in those days, good always prevailed. The wicked man was spared and he left the scene grateful for his life.
Fictional scenes such as these demonstrated a big-heartedness that enabled the parties involved to change. Hardness became vulnerability and softness. Anger melted. The "goodie" and the "baddie" were drawn to look into each other’s eyes and when they did, they no longer saw conflict. Instead, each man saw another human being with feelings that connected with his feelings. Each was drawn outside of himself to relate differently to the other.
Such scenes taught me, in my childish mind, that to show mercy was to be kind and that, when you were kind to someone, it promoted goodwill for everyone involved. These instances also taught me that, when mercy is shown to someone who is behaving badly, that person is grateful.
To be merciful is to have a compassionate heart that goes out to another in tenderness. Marie McCarthy SP expresses it like this: "Love (a compassionate heart) is to allow yourself to be changed. This openness to being influenced by another without losing your identity creates a larger world for you than for the individual who fears being influenced."
In the story of the Good Samaritan, we see a parallel to our "goodies" and "baddies" television show. To put the story into context, Samaritans were looked upon as rebels and were despised by the Jews. However, the Good Samaritan is so affected by the plight of the Jewish man, who had been robbed and left for dead, that he is drawn to act mercifully despite the prejudices of his upbringing and culture. The Jewish man, on the other hand, is vulnerable and exposed and is totally at the mercy of anyone who comes to his aid, even a Samaritan! And they were both changed! They crossed the cultural and religious barriers that often keep people apart.
In both the television show and Jesus’ parable, the plea for mercy was a cry for compassion. In each instance, mercy created change.
One hundred and fifty years ago, Julian Tenison Woods and Mary MacKillop opened their hearts in tenderness to the bush children. Their merciful hearts and their love of their God drew them to show compassion and kindness to the poor and disempowered. Many young women witnessed what they were doing and accepted the challenge to do the same. Hence, they also created change in the lives of the disempowered to whom they ministered.
Today we, too, are challenged to be people of mercy and compassion. As John Sivalon MM has put it:
“God is continually calling us to be more than what we are, to know more than what we know and to do more than what we do."