The Scouring of the Shire
At last, we complete our considerations on the works of mercy with the seventh spiritual work of mercy and the final overall: bearing wrongs patiently. And what wrongs we discover as we finally cross back into the borders of the Shire! We learn of trees chopped down with wanton, fires kindled for sport, homes torn down for industry, honest hobbits imprisoned or impoverished. These pains strike deeper than most, and these wrongs are more sorrowful than most we have experienced on our journey, for they are evils done to our homes.
To bear wrongs: not to solve them, not to struggle against them, not to cry out against them, but to carry them with us. To bear wrongs does not discount the solution, the struggle, or the cry, but it is a different service. It is the waiting of Farmer Cotton for a banner that will rally the people; it is the slow ride to Bag End amidst the devastation and ruin of Hobbiton in order to reach the source of the wrongs. Bearing wrongs is an internal orientation towards mercy and relationship: to not wish death upon even your worst enemies, and to hope (like Frodo) that one might find a cure to their fallen state even if that cure seems impossible. In the words of Frodo himself, “It is useless to meet revenge with revenge: it will heal nothing.”
Not only to bear wrongs, but to do so patiently. It is so easy to let emotions take control, to respond to wrongs with anger and righteous rage, to act in haste. At times, time is of the essence: at times, only a small window for justice is open. But patience is not limited to the measure of minutes and hours: patience is a conscientious decision. It is patience that stays wrath, that allays bitterness, that remembers the costs of suffering. To bear wrongs patiently strengthens every other mercy and every other service, but it also opens the soul to every grace and gift: solidarity, understanding, compassion, love.
And so it is a fitting end for the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. As we have wandered Middle-earth, we have seen these fourteen services in action, and we have considered their challenges and opportunities in our modern age and society. The world has change, but women and men have not. There remains injustice to be rectified, brokenness to heal, sin to contend with. For every increase in technology and infrastructure to provide material needs, there is a cold efficiency and personal-less distance to overcome. For every increase in connectivity and innovation that offers interior support, there is relativity and anonymity to undermine. Among men and women there will be those who don’t understand, those who try to stymie or prevent such service out of ignorance, misunderstanding, or selfishness. Without the capacity to bear such wrongs patiently, we shall never be able to see the Shire in spring again.
The world is in need of mercy more than ever, but a mercy that is true and deep, not superficial. We must reject the easy path of declaring all things equally good and defining love to be the same as indifferent tolerance. The more challenging road of mercy is paved with the stones of service, of engagement with the struggles of our fellows, of lifting up the sinner while casting down the sin. As we conclude our Lenten journey and enter into the long light of Easter, this remains our rallying cry: “merciful like the Father.”
2015’s Reflection: “On the Things that Really Matter”