Fire Of Mercy Heart Of The Word
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
Friday Book Pick: Fire of Mercy Heart of the Word by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
It is 732 pages, but by the end you’ll be begging for more. This work, on the Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew, is not like other Scripture commentaries; it is more akin to a meditation. But it is a meditation that issues, not from the mind only, but from the mind, heart and soul of a fellow pilgrim, a disciple, a believer in Jesus Christ (who also happens to be a scholar). The approach taken in this extensive work on St. Matthew’s Gospel could be seen as opposite to the hypercritical approach to Scripture made popular by “scientists” who tend to approach the Word of God as if were a cadaver for dissection rather than a
Living Word with life-breath of its own and layers
of radiant meaning.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, now a Trappist monk at the Monastery in Spenser, Massachusetts, pens his meditations on the Gospel as the fruit of what he calls a cordial reading of the Scriptures: that is, a reading with the heart. Merikakis in no way denigrates the value of biblical scholarship: historical, archeological, anthropological and linguistic. On the contrary, he readily acknowledges that analysis of Scripture can provide a valuable foundation from which a person can be free to pray with Scripture. As he states in his introduction, “Analysis and prayer need not contradict one another; the former, in fact, can often be the warrant for the latter remaining rooted in the authentic object of faith.” But his purpose is to provide a meditation on Scripture that enables the reader, or rather the pray-er, to enter the Word with the heart, not just the mind only. He describes his intention, “A cordial reading then, as I envisage it, is a reading in the manner of the Fathers, who, while being the great philosophers, theologians, teachers and linguists of their time, never forget that, above all controversies regarding a particular interpretation, the Word of God intended to strike their hearts and evoke from them a response aimed at striking the heart of God.” I think of the modern servant of God, Catherine Doherty, who said in prayer we must: “fold the wings of the intellect and put our head in our heart.” Merikakis means to help us do precisely that.
A finer springboard for prayer I have not found. This commentary is top of the line: deep, penetrating, insightful, fresh and brilliant, without coming across as stiff and scholarly at all. Merikakis’ starting point is the original Greek language in which Matthew’s Gospel was written, but the reader should be consoled by this and not daunted. His fascinating commentary ties in vast examples from the Hassidic tradition: he writes, “A deep sympathy exists between the spirit of Hassidism and the spirit of the present commentary.” He also draws from ancient and modern literature, culture and history.
If you are a regular Mass goer you probably know that we are currently in liturgical year A, and therefore it is predominantly Matthew’s Gospel we have been hearing proclaimed at Mass. Picking up a copy of this work will provide you with wonderful food for your prayer times, and it will serve to prepare you well for Mass. Once you come to the end of its 732 pages (if you ever do, because these pages are more like delicacies to be savored than junk food to be devoured), you’ll be sorry it’s over. But you’ll be gladdened to know that there are two more volumes of equal length—so thorough and unhurried are Merikakis’ musings on Matthew. If you are like me, you’ll only be sorry that he hasn’t put pen to paper and given the world further meditations on other portions of the Holy Scriptures. Then again, perhaps he still will.
Mother Clare, CFR