by Ken Williams
Mercy is not a popular concept today. We tend to enjoy the instant gratification of seeing people “get what they deserve,” as evidenced in the movies we watch, popular novels and, most recently, in peaceful protest marches that turned violent.
But our God is a God of mercy and grace, “who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pt 1:3).
Are we a merciful church? Are we merciful individuals? The Letter of James tells us: “So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (2:17). The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines works of mercy as charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his/her spiritual and bodily necessities. Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead are all examples of corporal works of mercy.
Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting, forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently are all defined as spiritual works of mercy.
Most people associate Catholic Charities, the social services arm of the church, with the corporal works of mercy (food, clothing and shelter).
Most, if not all, of our churches have some sort of social concerns group focused on corporal works of mercy. Many of our churches have established Stephen Ministries to console, instruct and comfort those that are hurting. Our pastors and priests provide spiritual instruction, advice and counseling. All are important works of mercy.
But what would someone tasked to observe us for a month say? What if they could somehow read our minds as we served at the local soup kitchen? What if they focused on our attitudes while we volunteered? What if someone could peer into the deepest part of our hearts where our true feelings reside about a fellow church committee member or even a family member who offended us two years ago?
Would they see examples of true mercy, the kind that stems from the heart? How we serve those in need is just as important as the service itself.
One of the three key initiatives in Archbishop Naumann’s 10-year vision is to “cultivate relationships by engaging in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.” On Dec. 5 and 6, coinciding with the beginning of the Year of Mercy declared by our Holy Father, we will all be invited to regularly engage in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Imagine what our parishes and communities will look like if everyone accepts the challenge, and all works of mercy are performed with pure hearts.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Mt 5:8).