The Plague and Christian Mercy

As the year comes to a close we are reminded of what, in the end, is truly important. It is not our foolish arguments over trivial things, it is not the amount of material possessions we have acquired, or how much money we have made. But rather, how we have loved and served God. As we have learned in the past few weeks, how we love and serve God is demonstrated by how we treat each other, particularly those in greatest need of our help.

The impact of Christianity on early society is not generally understood. In the ancient world, mercy was a sign of weakness. Justice demanded that people got what they deserved and that was seen as appropriate. Mercy on the other hand extended grace, love, and kindness to people who had done nothing to deserve it.

But Christians valued mercy. Christian communities were places where people lived longer and healthier lives. When they became sick or poor or suffered some mishap, they had brothers and sisters in Christ who provided for their need.

Many historians trace the rise in Christianity to the simple fact that Christians generously loved each other as well as their neighbors, even their pagan neighbors.

In A.D. 251 a great plague struck the ancient Greco-Roman world. Those that could afford it fled to the countryside, those who could not were forced to stay in the cities. The streets were filled with infected persons who had been turned out from their homes. Everyone lived in fear.

But Christians saw this as an opportunity to exercise the Christ-like love they claimed to embrace. They took the sick and the dying into their homes and nursed them. Many recovered who would otherwise have died and many Christian care-givers lost their lives.

Historian Henry Chadwick stated in his book The Early Church, “The practical application of charity was probably the most potent single cause of Christian success.”

In the final accounting it will all come down to whether or not we have learned the true meaning of love. Have we learned to give of ourselves for the benefit of others? Or do we go through our days focused on our own needs and our own desires? The answer will tell us where our heart truly lies, and where our heart is, there will our treasure be.

Christ absolutely and intimately associates Himself with the hungry and the thirsty, the aliens and the homeless. Each time we encounter the most miserable among us, we encounter He who will one day be our judge. On the Day of Judgment we will be divided into those who love God and those who freely chose to live their lives without Him. There are no half-measures. We are divided right and left, sheep and goats. There is no in-between.

Every day we are given dozens of opportunities to serve Christ by serving our brothers and sisters. Do we even notice?

Pax Vobiscum
The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe