2 March, 2020

I define mercy as the willingness to enter into the chaos of another.

~ James Keenan S.J. ~

Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18; Psalm 19; Matthew 25:31-46

The Jesuit moral theologian James Keenan defines mercy as the willingness to enter into the chaos of another. This is a fascinating and a challenging definition of mercy.


The Catholic Church has a strong tradition of spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Corporal works of mercy ask us to reach out beyond our comfort zones and help those who are most in need. It may be the homeless person begging for food down the road, or the sick person suffering with bad health in hospital, or the person who made a mistake. These are the people who are in need of our time and our assistance in whatever way we can help. This reaching out is a work of mercy on our behalf. But according to James Keenan, showing mercy means more than that. By reaching out to them, we are letting the chaos of their lives touch us. We are letting their issues, their problems, and their crises be our own for a time. In helping them, we are letting their needs touch our lives, our hearts and our minds. We are entering into the chaos of another. We are showing them mercy.


The Gospel today challenges us to do just this, to reach out to those in need. Jesus challenges us to give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome to the stranger, clothes to the naked, and help to the sick. Can we let their chaos touch us, impact us and move us to love?


Of course, this is how God shows His mercy to us. His mercy is precisely letting the chaos of our lives impact him.


God feels our sorrows and our suffering and hears our cry for salvation. He looks at the chaos of the world and responds. God lets this chaos touch His Son and He lets that chaos lead His Son to death. In this act of mercy, He enters into the chaos of every person who has lived and will live on this planet.


Today in the Gospel, he asks us to do the same for those around us.


Loving Father,


Help us to see how you have entered into the chaos of the world and into the chaos of our lives today.


Help us to follow you by letting the chaos of those around us impact our lives, our thoughts and our hearts.




Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

This reflection has been adapted from Have Mercy, O Lord! Daily Reflections for Lent by Grant Tungay SJ, Russell Pollitt SJ, Annemarie Paulin-Campbell, Puleng Matsaneng, Anthony Egan SJ and Frances Correia, & published by the Jesuit Institute South Africa in 2016.

Reflection prepared by

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Whilst working at the Institute, Matthew managed the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and was involved in the Spirituality work, completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and the Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and was also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa. He is currently the Director of Communications for the Jesuits in Southern Africa, based in Lusaka, Zambia.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
See more from Matthew Charlesworth SJ

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