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A Quality of Mercy

Updated on April 11, 2013

Fans of the 1960s cult classic TV program "The Twilght Zone" might recall a seminal and rather poignant episode in the TV Series' highly successful run entitled "A Quality of Mercy".

Borrowing its title from William Shakespeare's "The Mechant of Venice", the story revolves around a young and very gung-ho Second Lieutenant by the name of Katell who is eager to earn his stripes (or bars in this instance) at the tail-end of World War II. As the episode unfolds, Katell orders his beleaguered troops to launch a very risky and rather reckless, unnecessary attack on a small group of wounded Japanese soldiers who are cornered in a small cave. His top Sargent, a veteran fighter all too familiar with the grim ravages of war who clearly has his thumb on the pulse of his troops in a way that the self-serving Katell could never fathom, tries desperately to talk him out of the attack. He passionately argues that it will lead to nothing more but extraneous and futile bloodshed. But Katell's mind is made up and he subsequently pulls rank on the Sargent ordering him to carry out the attack as planned.

But suddenly, in vintage whirlwind twilight zone fashion, Lt. Katell finds himself in Corregidor, three years earlier in the war. In a bizarre juxtaposition, Katell has now assumed the role of Lt. Yoshi Yamuri in the Japanese Army, where now he has been ordered to attack a group of young American soldiers who are similarly holed up in a cave. It is now Katell (in the form of Yamuri) who attempts to convince his superior officer to forego the attack. He is however quickly rebuked and berated by his Captain for being "weak" and having "lost his nerve". Delirious and deeply shaken by what he has just experienced, Katell is suddenly transported back to 1945, once again in the role of an American Soldier. He has just been informed however that the Atomic Bomb has been dropped on Hiroshima and strict orders have been passed on to him not to attack the cave but to instead fall back. The young Katell seems deeply and genuinely relieved while stuck in a moment of deep contemplation in light of what he has just experienced. As host Rod Serling might say between drags of his unfiltered Pall Mall, "file this one under "M" for the Twilight Zone."

A quality of mercy.....learned the hard way. And so it goes with this complex and delicate concept that we call "mercy".

Songs have been written about it.

Hospitals and churches are adept at incorporating the word into their titles - appropriately so.

Severely lopsided slow-pitch softball and little league baseball games have been abruptly halted via the so-called "mercy rule", a built-in stipulation designed to spare those on the wrong side of the contest further embarrassment while getting everyone to the saloon or tavern of choice a little bit sooner, perhaps in an effort to offer consolation to the losers via the back end of the $1.00 Budweiser Longneck Happy Hour Promotion. Or a Dairy Queen Oreo Blizzard as I suppose - and sincerely hope - would be the alternative for our little leaguers.

It is sometimes found in abundant supply (Mother Theresa) yet more often seen in far less-than-abundant supply ("that panhandler should get a job!" ...."toughen up"...."don't come cryin' to me"...."I told you so".... "let 'em eat cake").

So as the Catholic Church focuses on the Feast of Divine Mercy on the heels of the Easter Tridium, perhaps it might be time to borrow a phrase from a certain ubiquitous shipping company that favors a milk chocolate shade of brown and ask the question, "What can mercy do for you?"

Mercy can of course be shown and it can be accepted. In showing mercy towards others, we can be sure that we are glorifying Jesus by following in His example; we know we are doing that which is pleasing to Him. When Jesus first appeared on the Evening of the first day of the week before a shocked group of Apostles, His message was concise yet very powerful:

"As the Father has sent Me, so I have sent you"

It stands to reason then that since God sent Jesus into the world as a tangible, flesh and bone conduit of mercy ("as the father has sent Me") , that we too must show mercy (" I have sent you").

But it's what Jesus says next that bears even greater reflection. He says "Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained."

But by whom are they retained?

By the sinner, or by he or she that refuses to forgive and move on (as Jesus would have done in less than a heartbeat), instead opting to wallow in revenge, bitterness, anger, and the devastating error of living in the past? You get the idea. This can be accomplished by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and with Pentecost right around the corner, that journey has begun for those brave and enlightened enough to embark upon it.

How do we accept Jesus' mercy? Do we work hard at trying to comprehend it, careful to separate our made-for-eternity relationship with Jesus from our frail and flawed relationships in the finite world? Do we forgive ourselves as Jesus so willingly forgives us?

The Feast of Divine Mercy offers us an opportunity to contemplate all of these things, and contemplate them we must. Mercy is a gift from Jesus for us to embrace, but for as great a gift as it is, we must also remember that to whom much is given, in this case mercy, much is expected.


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