In my last post, Less Talking - More Doing, I called on everyone to really live out the Faith. Recognizing that many may not know how to start doing this, I wanted to write a post on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. Basically, this is a handy list of all the things we ought to be doing as Christians in our day-to-day lives. Now don't panic, you don't have to do every single one, every single day(thank God, since one of them is to bury the dead!) but we could all probably do more than we are and I want to make it simple with some suggestions for each one to give you ideas.
The Corporal Works of Mercy
There are seven Corporal Works of Mercy. These are the physical ways we need to be taking care of our fellow man. Most of these will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Gospel since most of them come from the passage in Matthew 25:31-40. I'll list each one and give you some practical suggestions for how you can incorporate them in your daily life.
#1 and 2: Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
These first two go together and there are many ways to live it out. Most obvious is to physically take someone in need of food and drink and give it to them. Not everyone is able to do this for a variety of reasons, though, so what are some other ideas? Many churches have regular collections for outreach missions which provide food to those in need. Find out what they need most and add it to your shopping list. You can have items that are a permanent part of your grocery list or buy whatever they are in most need of each month. Don't have collections at your church or don't go to church? Find a homeless shelter or food pantry near you and make donations there. Can't afford to buy extra food on top of your own groceries? Donate your time instead and help serve food at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or give out items at a local outreach.
#3: Clothe the naked
Similar to 1 and 2, your ability to live this one out depends on your budget. Has God blessed you abundantly with wealth and prosperity? Perhaps you could purchase some items and donate them through your church or to a local shelter. Have a brood of children at home you can hardly keep clothes on? Donate any surviving hand-me-downs. If you're crafty, you could also consider donating hand-made items such as blankets, prayer shawls, and hats for babies in the NICU(neonatal intensive care unit).
Now if you're especially strapped for time, or just too organizationally impaired to manage regular donations, consider the option of sponsoring a child, youth, or senior in need. We began sponsoring a child in Guatemala last year through an organization called Unbound. You can set up automatic payments to a credit card or bank account so there's no need to remember every month. You get to see the impact your sponsorship has on someone's life through regular pictures and letters. While I still encourage folks to get down in the trenches and make contact with your fellow man, this is a great place to start if you're feeling a bit timid.
#4: Visit the imprisoned
Now before you throw your hands up at this one, yes, I realize not everyone can go to visit people in prison. Some churches have prison outreach programs. If you feel called to help then go for it. If you don't feel comfortable, you could simply support the ministry. Do they need bibles for the inmates or rosaries? St. Benedict Catholic Store collects old Catholic books to pass out to inmates. And certainly don't forget our imprisoned youth!
#5: Shelter the homeless
Again, not everyone can simply pick up homeless people off the street and bring them home. But could you give someone a ride to the nearest shelter? How about simply support your local shelter? If finances do not allow monetary support, there is always the gift of your time. Ask a shelter how you can help. Are you a business owner who could help by blessing someone with employment? There are many possibilities if we really search our hearts for what our contribution could be.
#6: Visit the sick
It can be very trying to be sick in such a way that it isolates you. Beyond being down for the count with a cold for a few days, being seriously ill, aside from the physical suffering, can make you spiritually and mentally miserable. It feels like the rest of the world is going on without you. If you have the ability, take time to visit not just loved ones, but strangers too. My former homeschool group in Wilmington, NC would visit a nursing home once a month and the children would sing songs and bring pictures they had colored to give out. My girls used to make hearts that said "Jesus Loves You" to give out. Not only were our visits appreciated and anticipated, one of the more spirited residents would scold us if we missed a visit! Some hospital nurseries need volunteers to hold babies whose parents are not available. You can even send a get well message to a child in the hospital through CURE International. Again, pray, discern, and do what you feel called to do.
#7: Bury the dead
God willing, you won't have to do this one very often. Our family went through a difficult time with several deaths occurring close together until I was afraid to answer the phone. May God bless you and your loved ones with long and happy lives, but when the inevitable time comes, make every effort to attend the funeral. Hopefully you will have lots of time when there are no funerals to attend, and during those times visit the graves of loved ones and see that they are well-tended. Don't have any graves close by of family or friends? Visit local cemeteries and inquire about tending neglected graves. This might seem a bit morbid, but just imagine the grave of someone you love or your own grave going untended because nobody was around to care for it.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are what we need to be doing to care for the souls of our fellow man. Like the Corporal Works of Mercy, there are seven. We can take care of every physical need of our brothers and sisters, but if we do not also do everything in our power to safeguard their souls, then all else is meaningless. What good is it to be perfectly comfortable in this life if we are to suffer eternally in the next?
#1: Admonish the sinner
"There will be joy among the angels of God over one repentant sinner."-Luke 15:10
Society today has the strange notion that loving someone means accepting their every choice. Rather, love, as understood from a Christian perspective, means willing the good of the other. We must want and seek what is truly good for each other and that is not always the same as what we think will make us happy. So it is our responsibility to charitably and respectfully call to attention the sins of one another. This is not meant to be self-righteous in any way. People take such offense these days at calling anything immoral and declare everything a matter of personal preference. What we must understand is that some choices and behaviors are necessarily and objectively wrong and we aren't doing anyone a favor by pretending otherwise. Remember that one day we will all be answering to the Lord Almighty for each and every choice we make in this life. We must call one another back when we go astray.
#2: Instruct the ignorant
"Your light must shine before men so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father." - Matthew 5:16
First and foremost, our actions must show the love of Christ to all. We can do far more to lead others back to God by setting a good example and showing them the Faith than we can with words alone. But we must also be ready to share the Good News with others. Don't assume that someone has heard it already. Share Jesus with others. Invite them to come to Mass with you. I once heard of a man who spent decades attending Mass and helping out in church, but never received Communion. When someone finally asked him why he explained that he wasn't Catholic. Shocked, they asked him why not. He told them because no one had ever asked him before. He attended RCIA and became Catholic. Don't be afraid to speak up and reach out. You never know who is simply waiting for an invitation.
#3: Counsel the doubtful
"If you wish to enter into life, keep the Commandments." - Matthew 19:17
Sometimes we just aren't sure what we should be doing or whether or not we are following God's will for us. This work of mercy, I think, is really about making time for one another. Today more than ever we are always busying ourselves with things we think are so very important but we don't have time to sit and talk with each other. The Christian path is not an easy one to walk and we need guidance and encouragement to keep on the path to Heaven.
#4: Comfort the sorrowful
"Come to Me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you." - Matthew 11:28
This one is fairly self-explanatory. Yet we all need the reminder to take the time and reach out to those who are hurting. We live in an increasingly self-centered world which encourages us to put ourselves, our comfort, our pleasure, before everything and everyone else. But I tell you that true happiness comes from sacrificing for others. Send a card, buy some flowers, make a phone call, or pay a visit to someone who needs comfort and love. You'll both be happier for it.
#5: Bear wrongs patiently
"My command to you is: 'love your enemies, pray for your persecutors.' "- Matthew 5:44
Up until now I can imagine everyone has been smiling and nodding along in agreement. This one is probably met with a bit of a grimace. It goes against everything we feel when someone mistreats us. We want justice. Sometimes we want vengeance. We certainly don't want to exercise patience and understanding. So how to put this one into practice? I think the first step is to pause. Resist that knee-jerk reaction when someone treats you unfairly or impolitely. Our first reaction in these situations is generally the wrong one. Take a moment to swallow your pride which tells you to return that rude remark with a snappy comeback. Remind yourself that underneath the ugliness you just received is a person made in the image and likeness of God. Remind yourself, too, that you are not always a shining refection of your Creator and muster the strength to share the mercy which has been given to you. Did your waitress just dump your drink in your lap? Smile and tell her you didn't like that outfit anyway. Did somebody just cut you off on the highway? Pray for them to reach their destination safely. Did somebody at work just snap at you? Tell them you're sorry they're having a hard time and you hope their day gets better. Will your kind words or deeds always be received in the light they are given? Certainly not, but you will be better for them and they just might plant a seed that will one day turn into something beautiful. Most importantly, your Father in Heaven will be most pleased with you and that should always be your first concern.
#6: Forgive injuries
"If you forgive the faults of others, your Heavenly Father will forgive you yours. If you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive you."
We are all in need of forgiveness. God gives it to us freely if we will only seek it out. But sometimes forgiving others, or even forgiving ourselves, can feel impossible. Some pain seems too big to be pardoned. What we must realize is that when we hold a grudge, when we refuse forgiveness, what we really are doing is holding on to the pain we so desperately want to be free from. Anything that can be said about forgiveness, was put perfectly into music by Matthew West in his song, "Forgiveness." Give it a listen, and ask yourself if there is anyone you have been withholding forgiveness from that you could reach out to.
#7: Pray for the living and the dead
At first glance this seems like the easiest of all the Works of Mercy. Praying takes only a small investment of our time. It doesn't cost us any money and we can do it wherever and whenever we want. Now to all the non-Catholics reading this, praying for the dead will seem silly, but the argument for the existence of purgatory and the need to pray for the dead will have to wait for another post. The point I want to make here is that while praying should come easily and naturally, for some reason it just doesn't.
Perhaps we find it difficult to feel like we are actually accomplishing anything by praying. We can't see any immediate tangible results from our efforts. We want things to go a certain way, and we know that it might not be God's will and so we struggle to relinquish control over to Him. I am speaking from a boat-load of experience here. I have noticed a pattern in my life that has revealed just how rarely my will coincides with God's. It is only recently that I am learning to really listen and seek His will and, yes, hand control over to Him rather than try to force things to go my way. It is only by recognizing that so many times I wanted something and so many times it turned out far greater than if I would have gotten my way. We can trust that God's will is always what is best for us, even if it doesn't always feel like it.
Now, for any non-believers reading this I want you to understand the purpose of prayer. I remember all too well when I was an atheist shaking my head at Christians praying. Over and over I thought, "How about you get off your butt and DO something instead of expecting God to do it for you??" This is not the purpose of prayer. We do not pray so that God will solve all our problems. Prayer does not change God or His will for us, but rather it helps us to align our hearts with His. Prayer is communion with God, and the more we do it, the more we seek His will for us, the more we are able to submit to it ourselves. And once His will is clear, then we are able to act and be at peace knowing that we are doing what He wants us to.
The Exciting Conclusion
There you have it: fourteen simple ways you can share the love of Christ with others. As I said, you don't have to do every one every day. Keep them in your mind and in your heart. Keep your eyes open for the opportunities God sends your way each day. Be watchful for the least of these! Remember that you don't have to save the world; Christ already did that. Give God what you are able and you'll be amazed what He can do with your small offering.
I leave you with the words of St. Francis of Assissi:
Start by doing what's necessary; then do what's possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
Until next time, may God bless you!