At the end of his homily last Saturday evening, Father Eugene gave the congregation a homework assignment. We were asked to learn the Works of Mercy and to see how we apply them to our everyday life.
I have always disliked “homework.” It was alright when my kids were given homework. But for myself, that was different. I fully understand its importance, why it was given, and just how beneficial it could be. I just didn’t like having to do it.
My high school experience included a course in Plane Geometry, a subject dreamed up by the Greek Euclid to torment high school students in their sophomore year of math. By some twist of fate, I actually enjoyed the course although many of fellow classmates found it confusing at best. To make matters worse, my class was the only class to use the specific textbook while all the others were using a different text. So what, you ask? The other text allowed the use of some more advanced postulates while our text was closer to the subject written by Euclid.
Each morning, several of my classmates gathered in the school library, forming a mutual-aid society to discuss and resolve our Geometry homework from the previous evening. We would share insights into how to solve the problems that had been assigned. Now, if you remember, Geometry has certain basic rules that are to be used in a logical sequence to solve the problem. Thus, there are a limited number of solutions to any given problem. Our efforts were relayed to the instructor, and she even offered to furnish the carbon paper to make it easier for us for she promised that “the truth will come out on the first test.” One result of that first test was our morning meetings were never again mentioned in class. I guess we all did quite well.
Enough on that subject, and back to the subject: The Works of Mercy. There are 14 altogether. They are divided into two groups of seven. One set, the Corporal Works of Mercy, concerns the material needs of others. The other set, the Spiritual Works of Mercy, deals with the spiritual needs of others. The roots of these go as far back as the Old Testament.
More recently, on Nov. 30, 1980, Saint John Paul II, then the Pope, issued a papal encyclical, “Dives in misericordia,” in which he stated, “Jesus Christ taught that man not only receives and experiences the mercy of God, but that he is also called ‘to practice mercy’ towards others.”
The Corporal Works are to give of ourselves to relieve the material needs of others. They are:
1. To feed the hungry.
2. To give drink to the thirsty.
3. To clothe the naked.
4. To harbor the harborless (presently interpreted as shelter the homeless).
5. To visit the sick.
6. To ransom the captive (presently interpreted as visit the imprisoned).
7. To bury the dead.
The first three are self-explanatory and do not require a lot of effort. How many of us contribute to the Outreach Ministry food pantry? What does a case of water cost at Sam’s or Costco? What do you do with the “out-of-style” or no-longer-wanted clothes we all have? Have you visited a sick or aged relative or friend lately?
No. 4 takes a little more effort and sacrifice. Many of us are reluctant to open our homes to those in need. Maybe we need to look into Knight Hands and see what we can do. It could be as little as mowing someone’s lawn because they can no longer do it.
Not many of us visit those imprisoned. “Imprisoned” includes those who feel they are trapped in situations for which they can see no resolution. It does not have to be limited to those physically incarcerated.
“To bury the dead” has its basis in the Book of Tobit. Visit those who are grieving. Your presence conveys the fact that life goes on even after the loss of a loved one.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are to give of ourselves to relieve the spiritual needs of others. They are:
1. To instruct the ignorant.
2. To counsel the doubtful.
3. To admonish sinners.
4. To bear wrongs patiently.
5. To forgive offenses willingly.
6. To comfort the afflicted.
7. To pray for the living and the dead
Most of us are not qualified to practice four of the seven. These might require specialized training, and we are not expected to educate the ignorant, council the doubtful, comfort the afflicted or admonish sinners. We do share an obligation to support those who are qualified and able to do these. The remaining three – to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offenses willingly and to pray for the living and the dead – are considered by the church as obligations for all of us.
This lecture is an act of Mercy. You have had your “homework” assignment handed to you. Father Eugene would be pleased. Now, it is up to you to memorize the 14 Works of Mercy and to determine how you fulfill them or what you should do to fulfill them.
Copies will be available on our web page before Saturday’s Mass.