Last week ending with the comment: Let’s examine the traditional works of Mercy (forever old…but…forever new (due to their lack of use)). And, it’s quite TRUE. Like a present that is constantly re-gifted (and passed to someone else to open and keep)…the Works of Mercy is treated the same. But, you know, in this coming Lent, let’s open this gift and put Mercy to work in our lives in an extraordinary way.
A primary focus for the Year of Mercy are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These are lists of concrete actions that Christians can do to bring God’s compassion and mercy, love and charity to others. We’ll look at the corporal works of mercy in this article.
Roughly, seven weeks of Lent…let’s practice one a week to start. You pick the order.
We call them “corporal” because of the Latin root meaning “relating to the body” and our physical (visible) world. These are acts of physical care for others and are traditionally listed as: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned (maybe – for us – homebound); and, bury the dead. Jesus gives us six of the seven of these in the Gospel of Matthew 25:34–40 where He tells us that those who are saved do these for others (faith AND GOOD WORKS) and those who are not saved…don’t. (The seventh, bury the dead, comes from the Book of Tobit 1:16-18).
Why these seven? Because while they cover the ordinary parts of everyday life–food, drink, shelter, etc.–providing them to those who lack them awakens in us extraordinary wellsprings of love for others. When we do these things for others, our hands become the hands of Christ and our eyes become the eyes of Christ. Our voice is the voice of Christ. We are Christ for others in our giving.
But mercy flows both ways. We are changed too. Mother Teresa once said, “Every person is Christ for me.” She said that the work of her sisters in the streets of Calcutta, caring for the sick and dying and the poor, was “only the expression of the love we have for God.” On a purely human level, such work may not make sense: the people we help may continue to be poor or sick or die or make bad life decisions. That’s okay. We do not love only when we assured of the “right” result. Like a mother with her children and God with us, we love because it is what we do. (And…again…do remember – God will never be outdone in love in return.)
We show love and mercy to others to make us more loving, to become more like God who overflows with love, but also to bring His love to more of the world.
The form of our corporal works of mercy do not have to match the words literally for them to be loving and merciful. If you can’t go to the streets where the hungry beg for food, perhaps you can gather up food that can be donated to the Food Bank for the hungry. Perhaps go one better, skip a meal, and buy a gift card from the money you saved and donate it to the food bank. The average home meal is $5.
Or, you may wonder how to bury the dead. It doesn’t mean literally digging holes in the cemetery, but if you can or if you’re presented with the death someone you know, go to the wake and (or) funeral. When you are not assigned…offer to substitute and help anyone who needs to make such arrangements in a time of loss. Or, call and ask how to step up and step in to help maintain the cemeteries the parishes are responsible. By the way…how many cemeteries are we directly responsible to maintain? (If you don’t know…this speaks to the point of lack of mercy we have developed…the Answer to come later in this bulletin).
Opportunities to practice the works of mercy are all around us, even in our neighborhoods, if we only look hard enough. There are people suffering their own private deprivations who desperately crave the warmth of helping hand and loving heart…the time God gave us.
Pope Francis said in introducing the Year of Mercy that he hopes that our reflection on the Works of Mercy will “be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty.” Let’s see our brothers and sisters in need with eyes newly awakened in mercy especially during this coming Lent.