From “Sermon 25” (ca. 535)
“Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” Sweet is the name of mercy, dear friends; and if the name is sweet, how much more so, the reality! Yet though everyone wants to receive it, sadly not everyone lives in such a way as to merit it. Everyone wants to receive mercy; few are ready to show it to others.
What incredible effrontery to want to receive something one constantly refuses to give! You must show mercy in this life if you hope to receive it in the next. And so, dear friends, since we all wish for mercy, let us make her our patroness in this age that she may free us in the life to come. There is mercy in heaven, but we attain it through the exercise of mercy on earth. This is what Scripture says, “O Lord, your mercy is in heaven.”
There are two kinds of mercy then, mercy on earth and mercy in heaven, one human, the other divine. What is human mercy like? It makes you concerned for the misery in which the poor live. What is divine mercy like? It forgives sinners. Whatever generosity human mercy shows during our life on earth divine mercy repays when we reach our heavenly country. In this world God is cold and hungry in the person of the poor, as he himself said, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” God who is pleased to give from heaven, desires to receive on earth.
What sort of people are we if we want to take what God gives, but refuse to give when he asks? When a poor person is hungry, Christ is in need, as he said himself: “I was hungry and you gave me no food.” Take care not to despise the misery of the poor, if you would hope, without fear, to have your sins forgiven. Beloved, Christ is now hungry, he is hungry and thirsty in his poor, and what he receives on earth, he returns in heaven.
So I put to you this question: what is it you want, what is it you are looking for, when you come to church? What indeed if not mercy? Then show mercy here on earth, and you will receive mercy in heaven. A poor person is begging from you, and you are begging from God. The beggar asks for a scrap to eat, you ask for eternal life. Give to the beggar, so that you may deserve to receive from Christ. Listen to his words, “Give and it shall be given to you.” I say again, what effrontery for you to receive what you refuse to give! And so when you come to church, give whatever alms you can to the poor in proportion to your means.
Caesarius of Arles (ca. 470-542) was an influential French bishop and spiritual writer, one of the most popular preachers of his day. He was an advocate of monastic reform and promoted the ministry of preaching among his clergy, publishing 250 of his own sermons as models for others. This text is adapted from Sermons of St. Caesarius of Arles Vol 2, trans. Mary Magdaleine Mueller (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1964).