A Reflection on Mercy
The Catholic Church differentiates between Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy.
are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities. Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God.
2448. "In its various forms—material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death—human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere."
Corporal Works of Mercy
- To feed the hungry
- To give drink to the thirsty
- To clothe the naked
- To shelter the homeless
- To care for the sick
- To visit the imprisoned
- To bury the dead
- Various hunger groups - Meals on Wheels, Food Banks, Free Lunch programs (schools, churches).
- In the case of Hurricane Harvey, Anheiser-Busch stopped producing beer, and switched to canned water. Relief organizations put a priority on getting clean water to the affected people.
- Clothing Drives, Coats for Kids, Buy 1, Donate 1 (Tom's).
- Joel Osteen took a lot of grief for his church not opening its doors to the flood-affected. Whether or not he had good reasons for his decision, its interested that even those who decry public shaming of people's moral choices had NO hesitation about slamming him, publicly. In general, most of the businesses/churches/public facilities have been generous in taking in anyone who needed it.
- The very word 'hospital' comes from the term "Hostel of God" - a place where the ill would be cared for by those dedicated to God. For many years, hospitals were found in monasteries and other religious centers.
- If there is a place where most Christians have fallen down, it would be in spending time with prisoners. Few of us put this on our 'To-Do' list. Some who have distinguished themselves are: Chuck Colson - after his own release from prison, he founded the Prison Fellowship Ministry. There is Catholic Prison Ministry, Dismas Ministry, providing services to inmates, and a few others, such as Sr. Helen Prejean, who has dedicated her life to eliminating capital punishment.
- Burial is one of the many works that have been largely taken over by professionals. If you are one in this industry, your life can be dedicated to God through your work.
Almost all of the above are addressed by the various Relief Organizations - Red Cross, Catholic Charities, etc. Many of those Corporal Works have been institutionalized:
These are harder to manage, if you are a Catholic layman. For many of us, these works have been voluntarily relinquished to the religious workers.
- To counsel the doubtful
- To instruct the ignorant
- To admonish the sinner
- To comfort the sorrowful
- To forgive all injuries
- To bear wrongs patiently
- To pray for the living and the dead
- Counseling the doubtful and instructing the ignorant can be thought of as two parts of a single function. This can be prepared for by spending time in learning about Church doctrine, dogma, and how it applies in modern life.
- So, to both ends, adults in the church need to manage to enrich their spiritual understanding. This can be accomplished through online education, formal coursework through a college, or cathechism classes (either as a participant in adult groups, or as a catechism leader - nothing teaches you more about a subject as having to teach it).
- The 3rd work always seems to bring up the image of a scold - shaking a finger at those not living up to her standards. Would it help to think of them as someone who asks questions, for the purpose of helping themselves - and others - to examine their actions and thinking about sin? Maybe we could use one of the many memes on social media, not to brag like a Pharisee, but to humbly mention our own failing in that regard, and gently prod others to also examine their own behavior?
- Comforting the sorrowful is tough. At funerals, we are often awkward in expressing our sympathy, and negligent in the months after. One thing I have done is to write to those left behind, AFTER the immediate 'grief period', when life has largely returned to normal, to bring up memories of that person.
- Boy, this is tough! We want to hold onto our sense of injustice. We want to distance ourselves from those who have wronged us. Keep in mind, forgiveness does NOT mean that the person who caused you pain should "skate". They can be prosecuted. They can be avoided. They can suffer, due to public condemnation. But, in your heart, forgive them. Holding onto your anger is bad for you - it can literally shorten your life.
- Life, as my mom used to say, isn't fair. Sometimes, you get hit with major injustices. At other times, it's the little things that so annoy you. In either case, you often don't 'deserve' the bad things that have hit you. Sometimes, you will get justice - it may be years later. Sometimes, the person who wronged you doesn't seem to suffer. Patience. In God's time, you will be rewarded for your willingness to suffer, in this life or the next. Sometimes, that suffering can be used to develop spiritually. Other times, you can 'offer it up'.
- Most of us pray, formally or informally. A great deal of my prayer amounts to an internal conversation with God. Don't knock the spoken prayer - it can be powerful. Also, the group prayer can bind together the group, and focus their purpose. If you have not developed the habit of prayer, try one of the many resources:
- The Jesuit 3 Minute Retreat
- Daily Meditations from the Vatican
- Our Catholic Prayers - a nice site with some ideas, reasons why prayer is important, and other things
- If you want to try a traditional Catholic prayer, here is a site for Rosaries. Some very nice and not expensive ones.
- Online Rosary - requires Flash.
- The Rosary Army (Not military, more like the Salvation Army for rosaries) - offers free rosaries. Every Catholic should really have at least one.
- Remember candles in churches? Light a Virtual Candle for a specific intention.
- Some free resources to help you in your prayer life.
- The Daily Prayer - some nice resources.
- And, last, a worldwide, virtual rosary.