Friday, November 24, 2006

Spiritual and corporal works of mercy

I hope that everyone had a great day of Thanksgiving yesterday. For adults, especially, getting together with family to celebrate a holiday is usually an intense experience. It can be intensely good and loving; for some, it is intensely tough. For many mothers, especially, it's intense work (of cooking)! For devout followers of Christ, it can be an opportunity to perform a spiritual work of mercy. It's often very difficult if we engage in conversation with family members who are not devout and are not open to us as witnesses to Christ (Jesus says we are prophets in every town but our own).

When people ask me what the best way is to help lead family members who have strayed back into Christ's flock, I say that it's mainly through our actions. The way we live speaks more to them than anything that comes out of our mouths. If we are faithfully living the Gospel, then we are teaching them and others about Christ. As St. Francis told his friars, "always, always, always teach the Gospel. And, when you absolutely have to, use words".

Holiday family gatherings are some times when we have to use words. Family members might engage in discussions on faith or morals at the dinner table, or ask questions about the Church. Or, they might even be critical of the Church in some way. We might find one-on-one opportunites with some. If we have family members who are not Catholic, they may make comments or ask questions about what we believe. While our parents, siblings, and other kin may not accept us as teachers or prophets of Christ, we should see these moments as teaching moments.

Please understand that I am not advocating taking the offensive position in this, and attacking those who have drifted in their faith. I am referring to times when we need to defend Christ and his teachings. Also, it should always be done in charity. Any evangelization done without charity has no value: "If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1). The whole reason any of us would defend Christ and evangelize, especially to our families, is love.

It is an act of love to teach people about Christ, even if it is difficult or uncomfortable. If we didn't love those in our families, we wouldn't care about their lives and their souls, and, thus, wouldn't try to help them in their faith. But, it is because we love them that we would take the risk, enter the danger zone, and proclaim the Gospel. It is for the sake of love that we would perform any spiritual or corporal work of mercy for them or others. I have listed them below:

The spiritual works of mercy

To instruct the ignorant
To counsel the doubtful
To admonish sinners
To bear wrongs patiently
To forgive offenses willingly
To comfort the afflicted
To pray for the living and the dead

The corporal works of mercy

To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To clothe the naked
To give shelter to the homeless
To visit the sick
To visit the imprisoned
To bury the dead


At 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am not sure that I would take any notice of anyone in my family and would just think they had no right to be preaching at me.
But there are a few Catholic people I know who live lives in tune with what they preach. I look at their lives with the deepest respect, and the way they live keeps me at least on the edges of Catholicism. Without their actions I probably would have long gone from Church by now.
Last May I met a priest in Lourdes who I had a great talk to. He told me in no uncertain terms he thought I needed to get myself back to the Mass. But that admonition was in the context of a conversation full of Christ's love. I have not done as he urged, but it remains in my mind.


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