Lawrence parish uses Mercy Cards to commit to practical and concrete corporal, spiritual works of mercy

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From left, Murphy O’Malley and Sara Pavlyak carry a reliquary box during the procession from the Chapel of Mercy to the altar. Carrying the candles are Austin Quick and Sampson Huston.

By Carolyn Kaberline
Special to The Leaven

LAWRENCE — This year’s celebration of the solemnity of Christ the King held a special significance for members of Corpus Christi Parish Church here. Not only did it represent the official closing of the Year of Mercy, but it also marked the end of a yearlong program in which parishioners found and committed to simple, practical ways to spread Christ’s mercy.

“During the year, our choir went on a pilgrimage to Rome and parishioners traveled to St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison,” said pastor Father Mick Mulvany. “Our young people also went to visit the Shrine of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne.”

But in addition to the pilgrimages, he said, there was also a need to come up with practical ways that everyone could live the works of mercy.

“There was a collaboration of the parish staff and Father Mick as we reflected on the Year of Mercy and tried to decide what we wanted to get out of it,” said Chase Becker, Corpus Christi pastoral assistant. “We wanted something concrete in terms of taking the lofty idea of mercy and making it tangible.”

A parish-wide Mercy Card project was the result of their brainstorming. The cards were sent out to parish organizations and staff members who, in turn, came up with 10 ways each of the works — both corporal and spiritual — could be carried out.

“It can be pretty vague as to what it means to ‘teach the ignorant’ — one of the spiritual works of mercy,” said Becker. “However, inviting someone to a faith formation class is much more concrete and doable.”

Once the idea of the Mercy Cards was decided upon, a small folder listing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy and several Mercy Cards was passed out to all parishioners. Those cards featured sayings like: “Offer someone a ride if they’ve lost their driving privileges”; “Have a technology-free family day’’; “Light a candle at church for someone in need”; “Pray by name for someone disliked, even for those who have wronged you”; and “Give cards and stamps to a homebound person” — to name just a few of the 140 possibilities.

“If you really look through the cards, you’ll note that, although people’s circumstances might be different, these are achievable by everyone,” said Becker. “Once we came up with the idea for the cards and realized they represented something very holy, we needed somewhere to keep them, so a couple of parish artists went to work on the reliquary box.”

Constructed by Terry Wildeman and painted by Tony Silvestri, the idea for the paint colors and designs on the box came from the parish’s young adult group.

“When you look at the box, you notice the trees on it,” said Becker. “So many of the corporal works of mercy are somehow connected to trees or shelter.

“Trees are a symbol of growth and a reminder that, by participating in these acts, we can increase our relationship to Christ.”

While the trees are a reminder of the corporal works of mercy, the seven stars on the lid are a reminder of the spiritual works of mercy. The lid also contains a relic of Mother Teresa — a strand of her hair — which makes mercy more tangible, as she lived a merciful life, said Becker.

“She also brings out the idea of the communion of saints,” he said, adding that the relic was obtained from the Mother Teresa Center in California.

The reliquary box was placed in a flex area of the church, which was renamed the Chapel of Mercy. There, parishioners and others brought their completed Mercy Cards throughout the year.

“Together as a parish we’ve worked hard to fulfill Pope Francis’ call to spread Christ’s message of mercy in simple, practical ways through the use of our Mercy Cards,” said Becker.

“These cards, inscribed with names or intentions, have been placed by individuals into our Mercy Reliquary Chest,” he continued. “Throughout this past year, this reliquary and the cards within it have been the focus of much prayer and devotion.”

At each Mass this past weekend, the chest was brought up to the altar as part of a festive procession from its place of prayer near the baptismal font. Accompanying the chest were members of the Knights of Columbus and representatives of parish ministries who carried candles and placed them around the enthroned chest.

“This action symbolized the many, many works of mercy accomplished by the members of this parish community over the past year,” Becker explained. “During this liturgy, as we celebrated the closing of the Year of Mercy, we offered our thanksgiving as we reflected upon our own growth over this past year and the message of love which Christ the King offers us through his mercy.”

Following the liturgies, the cards placed in the reliquary were packaged and mailed to Calcutta, India, where they will be placed at the tomb of Mother Teresa and remembered in the prayers and liturgies of the Missionaries of Charity, the order that Mother Teresa founded.

“Mother Teresa’s example of living mercifully has inspired us through this year,” said Becker said. “We continue to ask for her prayers as we move forward from this year as more merciful and holy people.”

“This call to be merciful doesn’t come to a close with these liturgies,” explained Father Mick. “It is now part of who we are.”

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