Mercy for the Weak

May 23, 2024
Thursday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
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“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 9:42

St. Bede, an early Church Father, states that “he who is great, whatever he may suffer, departs not from the faith; but he who is little and weak in mind looks out for occasions of stumbling.” In other words, the “little ones” here could be understood to be those who are weak in faith and are constantly looking for reasons to depart from the faith.

Consider who might struggle with this tendency in your own life. Perhaps there is a family member who continually questions the practice of the faith, perhaps someone you know considers himself or herself a “fallen away Catholic.” According to St. Bede, these are the “little ones” of whom Jesus is speaking.

When dealing with someone who appears to lack faith, expresses doubts and disagreements, is caught in a life of manifest sin, or has begun to walk away from the practice of the faith, there can be a temptation to criticize, argue or condemn. If this is a temptation you struggle with, then listen closely to Jesus’ words: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin…” We cause those who are weak in faith to sin when we fail to show an abundance of virtue toward them during their struggles. Deep down, most people who are struggling with a life of sin or a weakness of faith do, in fact, have some faith. They do believe in God. But their faith is often easily shaken, and they can be easily pushed further away from God if we fail to exercise the necessary virtues of patience, compassion and mercy they need.

With that said, we also have to avoid offering a “compassion” that is not grounded in the truth. On this point, St. Gregory states: “If a stumbling block is laid before men in what concerns the truth, it is better to allow the offense to arise, than that the truth should be abandoned.” In other words, it is not compassionate or merciful to show support for another in their error so as to make them feel good. The truth of the Gospel must never be abandoned; instead, that truth must always be offered with the greatest of charity, especially toward those “little ones” who are weak in faith.

Reflect, today, upon the important balance that is necessary in the apostolic life. “Balance” does not mean compromise. Rather, it means that we seek to continually bring forth the full truth of the Gospel while also seeking to exercise the fullness of every virtue in the process. Do not become a stumbling block to others in the faith. Seek, instead, to lavish God’s grace and mercy upon those in your life who need it the most. If you do, then many of those little ones will one day become truly strong in the grace and truth of our loving God.

Most merciful Lord, You desire that all of Your children come to the full revelation of Your truth and mercy. Please use me as You choose to reach out to those who struggle with their faith and need to be treated with the utmost care. May I never be a stumbling block to them but always be a bridge to You and Your abundance of grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

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Featured images above: Jesus and the Little Child by James Tissot, via Wikimedia Commons