A couple of months ago I wrote a little reflection on the Corporal Works of Mercy and promised to write something on the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Well, at long last, here it is!
Earlier in the year Pope Francis addressed the Assembly of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in which he spoke about the importance of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In particular, speaking of the Spiritual Works of Mercy he said:
“When, in the evening of life it shall be asked of us what did we feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty, equally shall it be asked of us if we have helped people to set aside their doubts, if we have committed ourselves to welcoming the sinner, admonishing them or correcting them, if we have been able to combat ignorance, especially in relation to the Christian faith and good life”.
Clearly, Pope Francis understands the Spiritual Works of Mercy as of equal significance to the Corporal Works. So let us look at each one briefly and discover how we might live them in our own lives.
* Counselling the Doubtful
Each one of us can go through moments of doubt on our faith journey. This is often the result of something happening to us or to someone close to us that we can’t make any sense of or find God in. In these moments, we all need someone whose judgement we trust to guide us towards the truth. We do this first of all by witnessing with our own lives to the truth that God has sent His only Son and recognise/reveal God is love by the things we do. Practically, it may be sharing a book or prayer that we have found helpful or encouraging them to join us at Mass for Sunday worship.
* Instructing the Ignorant
Instructing the ignorant doesn’t sound too complimentary! Simply, it means teaching others how to live according to the Gospel. It usually means sometimes taking the risk and speaking to them about our beliefs. Or maybe, volunteering to help with a sacramental preparation programme in the parish or accompanying someone on the Journey of Faith programme.
This Spiritual Work of Mercy asks of us that although it is impossible to know everything about the Catholic faith, we should strive to know all we can in order to best instruct others. .
* Admonishing the Sinner
We all fail at different times in our life. In fact, if you are anything like me, I am constantly failing and having to pick myself up and start again! Aware of our shortcomings and failures, we are called to help others who have fallen to get back on track. Obviously it happens in a very special way with a Priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but it can happen in any place, anytime, anywhere, by what we used to call “fraternal correction” – taking someone aside and, in love, point out their wrongdoing. It is not only a blessing for the individual, but for us, too, as St James reminds us:
“Whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will cover a multitude of sins” James: 5: 19
* Comfort the Sorrowful
We all experience moments of sadness in life. We grieve over the loss of a loved one in death, or the loss of a job, the break-up of a relationship and many more situations. We all need someone in those moments to accompany us in our grief. It is never an easy thing to do. We can feel awkward or embarrassed because we don’t have the words to say. Often just being a presence in silence is more than enough. A moment of your time could make the difference of a lifetime for some on their journey of grief.
* Forgiving Injuries
We know from our own personal experience that one of the most difficult things to do is to forgive someone who has hurt us or someone close to us. This should come as no surprise, since we fall short of God’s limitless Mercy and Compassion. It is much easier for us, it seems, to hold on to grudges rather than let go. Yet Jesus’ teaching is clear: we should forgive as God forgives, relying on him to help us show others the mercy of God. The result is always a transformation of our own hearts and lives.
* Bearing Wrongs Patiently
We live in an imperfect world. Because we do, there is every possibility in life of being treated unjustly or unfairly by others. We know that this is harder to bear when the injustice is perpetrated by someone close to us. We may even feel that God Himself is acting unjustly towards us.
The Gospel challenges us in these circumstances to seek the strength to meet these difficulties with patience and joy and to find it in our hearts to pray for those who treat us unfairly.
* Praying for the Living and the Dead
We had an old Redemptorist Brother who was very fond of saying: “There is more wrought by prayer than this world ever dreamed of”. Prayer is one of the most effective and powerful ways of supporting one another.
Our prayer unites us with God and one another. We are called to pray for the Church and World, for family and friends. We are also called to pray for those who have gone before us: “… marked with the sign of faith”, so that we may join them one day in Heaven. In this way, we entrust the living and the dead into God’s loving care.
It is Pope Francis’s hope that during this Jubilee Year the recovery of the Spiritual Works of Mercy will be a guide and encouragement to us to help others in their spiritual need and that others will do the same for us.
I hope these few words will be a little help along the way!
In Christ, the Redeemer.