In his morning homily on Tuesday of last week (Feb23) Pope Francis said:
“To say and not to do is deception. To be a Christian means to do: to do the will of God. And on the last day, what will the Lord ask of us? Will he ask ‘what have you said about me?’ No! He will ask about the things that we have done”.
It may be a relief for some to know that the final judgment will not be a theological examination; nor will it be a test of our knowledge of the Bible. It will not even be about our vision/understanding of God: it will be about our behaviour, what we have done. It will be about mercy in action.
It is absolutely fundamental to our Christian faith that a real encounter with the Risen and Glorified Christ leads to mercy in action.
Our Good News must find expression in Good Deeds else it is not Good News.
The only touchstone, the only criteria of authenticity, for us is mercy in action: how we treat our brothers and sisters.
In all of this we are only echoing what God is and what God has done: God’s love is shown in action -in Jesus, God’s love is not a theory, not a vision, but is fleshed out in Jesus, the Word Incarnate.
That our faith must be fleshed out in good deeds was obvious to Christians from the very beginning, so we see mercy in action in the pages of the New Testament. The history of Christianity is a history of LIVING MERCY, a history of mercy in action.
Over centuries of prayer and experience, the Church has developed a way of speaking and promoting Mercy in Action by focusing on the WORKS OF MERCY: THE CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY AND THE SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY.
Schooled by the Scriptures, the Church speaks of 7 Corporal (or physical) works of mercy and 7 spiritual works of mercy. This way of looking at LIVING MERCY has helped countless Christians in the past; perhaps it can help us to LIVE MERCY today.
THE CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY
Six of the seven corporal works of mercy are taken straight out of Matthew 25: I was hungry…I was thirsty..I was naked…I was a stranger…I was sick…I was in prison.
The seventh we could say also came from Jesus’ experience….I was dead and you found a grave for me.
Jesus is still hungry and thirsty and naked: in the poor. Mercy in Action has to find a gospel response:
* bringing a loaf for the poor (Sunday Mass at Holy Red”The extra bread in your larder belongs to the hungry, the unused garments in your wardrobe belong to the naked, the shoes you let rot in your cupboard belong to the barefooted. When someone strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not – should you not be given the same name?eemer)
* supporting a local soup kitchen
*having a Family Fast Day -especially during Lent- and donating the money saved to the poor (surprising that this is not more common; it is very widespread in Catholic parishes in the UK)
* bringing surplus clothes to the St Vincent de Paul Society.
As early as the 4th century St Basil has this to say about these first corporal works of mercy:
“The extra bread in your larder belongs to the hungry, the unused garments in your wardrobe belong to the naked, the shoes you let rot in your cupboard belong to the barefooted. When someone strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not – should you not be given the same name?”
Jesus is still a stranger – in the migrant. For many years this corporal work of mercy had the wording “To harbour the harbourless”. This nautical language reminds us that a haven is a place where a ship may find shelter from a storm, a harbour offers a safe berth for ships. But when you are confronted with an elderly lady from the DRC who speaks no English, is diabetic and has no where to stay, finding space in a night shelter/haven or anywhere is an extremely difficult task.
Welcoming the migrant is not a problem for Syria, Turkey, Greece or Germany only…it is problem on our doorstep. Nor is this corporal work of mercy limited to extreme crises: we can help to teach a migrant English, we can help to fill in the endless forms they have deal with. Nor is this work of mercy limited to individuals; the parish, the diocese, has to perform acts of mercy too.
Jesus is still sick and imprisoned -in the elderly, the infirm and the prisoners.
In addition to the obvious call to visit the sick, there are many related possibilities:
- to drive an elderly/infirm person to Mass on Sundays>
- to make it our business to discover people in old – age facilities who get no visitors from one week to another
While it is difficult to gain entrance to our prisons,(except by getting oneself arrested!), nevertheless there exists a prison care network which makes this possible, but there are other ways to show mercy to prisoners:
- to support the families of prisoners
- to give an ex-prisoner a job
The addition of “to bury the dead” comes from an age and a time (e.g. of plague) when dead bodies were left lying in the streets. But as a work of mercy, care for the bereaved is always an expression of mercy:
the ministry of funeral teas (Bergvliet) is a beautiful expression for concern for the dead and for those who mourn
It is hugely encouraging to notice how many of these corporal works of Mercy find structural expression here in Bergvliet parish. But there is no limit to the imagination of love, the imagination of mercy. What remains constant is to call to serve one another in the love of Christ.
THE SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY
Just as the corporal works of mercy flow directly from the words of Jesus, so what we called the spiritual works of mercy flow from the life-style of Jesus.
Obviously the corporal works of mercy are profoundly spiritual experiences: shot through with the love of God, they radiate Christ’s own concern. But their object is more physical, maybe more obvious. What we call the spiritual works of mercy are often more subtle, less structured and relate to the spiritual needs of others.
They are also less well known!
1. To counsel the doubtful
2. To instruct the ignorant
3. To admonish the sinner.
4. To comfort the afflicted
5. To forgive offences
6. To bear wrongs patiently
7. To pray for the living and the dead.
You can see that these Spiritual Works of Mercy require a lot of tact, sensitivity and spiritual maturity.
1. Counselling the doubtful can be a delicate skill, the work of spiritual direction, encouragement and advice. It finds excellent expression in our counseling service in the parish.
2. Instructing the ignorant is less problematic and is done very competently here through Catechesis, RCIA etc
3. Admonishing the sinner is an exercise in “fraternal correction” a very risky business and one liable to blow up in one’s face!
4. Comforting the afflicted is a highly personal matter and often connects with the very comfort we ourselves have received in our own troubles.
5. Perhaps the most challenging Spiritual Work of Mercy is forgiving offences. A vital component of forgiveness is a vivid realization that we ourselves have been forgiven. [story of the bombing of Coventry Cathedral, the Coventry Cross and the inscription: FATHER, FORGIVE.].
6. Bearing wrongs patiently is an interior grace which comes when we let go of grudges, pet hates, and judgmental attitudes.
7. Praying for the living and the dead, especially for the dead we disliked, with whom we fought, carries mercy beyond the grave. It is a work of great hope.
A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offence twice and justice demanded death.
“But I don’t ask for justice” the mother explained, ” I plead for mercy”
“But you son does not deserve mercy” Napoleon replied.
“Sir” the woman cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for”
“Well, then, ” the emperor replied, “I will have mercy”
And he spared the woman’s son.
None of us deserves mercy, but all of us are bathed in a mercy that is divine and that seeks human and joyful expression in every aspect of our lives.