The Right Reason to Promote Righteousness

Epiphany 4 Friday

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

This too is a fine fruit of faith and rightly follows after what came before: If you want to help and promote other people so that things are done right everywhere, you also should be kind and merciful, that is, you should not quickly become angry where there are still shortcomings, where things do not go quite as they should, while there is still hope for improvement. For this too is a virtue of the false saints: They are unable to have compassion or mercy with the infirm and weak, but insist on observing every rule in the strictest way and choosing only the very purest. As soon as they see a little shortcoming, the time for grace is over, and they begin their raving and ranting. St. Gregory also teaches us how to identify such people when he says: “True holiness is merciful and compassionate, but false holiness cannot help but rave and rage, while it claims to act out of love and zeal for holiness.” For this is what we see going on mightily in the world: The world carries out all its wantonness and raging under the beautiful, excellent appearance and cover that it is done for the sake of holiness…But the noble tree is known by its fruits. For where they should promote righteousness so that things are done right in the church and the state, they do nothing. They also do not intend to instruct or improve anyone; they themselves live in nothing but vice. And if someone rebukes them for their deeds, or even does not praise them, and
does not do as they wish, he must be a heretic and let himself be condemned into hell. Look, this is how every false saint is. For their own holiness makes them proud to the point of despising everybody else and being unable to have a compassionate, merciful heart. This is why this verse is a necessary warning against such harmful saints: Let everyone see to it that he, where he deals with the neighbor and should help and improve him in his place in life, may also be able to be merciful and forgive, so that the people may see that you mean to promote righteousness for the right reasons, that is, not in order to make others taste your wantonness and anger. In this way, you will be righteous so as to deal kindly and neatly with him who wants to forsake unrighteousness and improve. Bear with his infirmity or weakness, until he can catch up. But where you, after trying all this, find no hope for improvement, you may forsake him and hand him over to those whose office is to punish. Now, this is one aspect of mercy: gladly forgiving sinners and the infirm. The other aspect is to do good to those who suffer outward needs or need help. Such are called the works of mercy, based on Matthew 25:35-36. The proud saints also do not know this aspect of mercy. For there is nothing but ice and frost, a frozen heart of stone. There is not a drop of desire or love to do good to the neighbor, just like there is no mercy to forgive sin…This is why this sermon and exhortation is despised and in vain among such saints; it finds no students except those who cling to Christ and believe in him beforehand, who know of no holiness of their own, but who, according to the previous verses, are poor, miserable, meek, and truly hungry and thirsty, who are so disposed as to
despise no one, but take on everybody’s need and are able to have compassion. They are meant by the comforting promise: “Blessed are you who are merciful; for you will find nothing but mercy in return, both in this life and in the next”–the kind of mercy that is unspeakably superior to all human good deeds and mercy.

St. Louis ed., 7:377-379.

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