I’m a bit under the weather today—nothing serious, just a bad cold—but it has pretty well scuppered my writing ability. I’ve thought of doing a series on the works of mercy, since this is a hot topic in the Church these days, and remembered that Catherine Doherty did a whole series of talks on them years ago.
So, since I don’t seem to have any words for the moment, here is the lady herself, giving her perspective on how to do the spiritual works of mercy that so often go forgotten these days in all the verbiage about the subject It’s a bit lengthy (but quite delightful), so it’s ‘beneath the fold’, so to speak:
The Spiritual Works of Mercy are:
To convert the sinner;
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To comfort the sorrowful;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive injuries;
To pray for the living and the dead.
To convert the sinner. How do we convert the sinner? Pamphlets? Pictures? Maybe, judiciously given at some point. I imagine that to some certain people a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say. Okay. I wouldn't know that way. I could not give you a technique how to convert the sinners, except one: to love him.
So into Friendship House on Portland Street came a man, one night, and he is wearing an ordinary shirt, flannel pants, tennis shoes, no coat and it is November and the temperature is mighty cold. There is a cold wind blowing from Lake Ontario and it's sleeting and raining and snowing all at once.
Now, the storefront of Friendship House was just like our big room, with a table, books, and there at the end far from the door was my desk, and over my desk was a very beautiful crucifix and a little shelf some hobo had made on which burned a vigil light, and it sort of dominated the room. When you walked into the room the first thing you saw was this crucifix. So this character looks at that and says, "Huh! Another of those damn Christian places where they tell you to get the hell out of here! Where is the Communist Hall?" which was three blocks down.
And with that, he falls like he stood, right on the floor! Well, I came up to him and I noticed that he had a terrific temperature because he is all burning up, and he is coughing and he is out - cold! So we dragged him upstairs, or carried him because the stairs were narrow, and we put him to bed and got the doctor. And the doctor announced that he had pneumonia.
So we followed the usual run-around, and I told you about burying the dead in New York, and I might just as well have mentioned visiting the sick in Toronto during the depression, for nobody would take him! He wasn't on relief. He wasn't a resident. He wasn't this, he wasn't that and the hospitals wouldn't take him. So we nursed him at home. Pneumonia in those days was a tough disease, no antibiotics, long convalescence, sick and tired, but he came out of it though his convalescence was very long.
So the moment he was rational again he informed me he was a member in good standing of the Communist Party and didn't care a damn about Catholicism or any Christian faith. So I said, "Okay, John, that's fine. There is only one side on our side, one rule: you are not to propagate Communism at night to the boys that you sleep with. Take them on in the daytime in the common room when someone of us is sitting there, so we can answer and at least have a challenge! Those guys don't know what you are talking about." So he said, "Okay, you nursed me so I will do that little thing." And he did.
So he spent his days in the sun, such as there was in November, in the backyard and slowly, on good food because we tried to give him extras and kindness and warmth, he recovered completely, and all day he was at the Communist Party, and at night he came to stay with us.
So of course, the hoboes used to say, "Well now, Katie, what is the matter with you? Why do you let a bitchy Communist sleep there? Why don't you give the bed to a good Catholic?" And I used to quote to them: "There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner converted than over ninety-nine just," and I said, "You characters are not that just that you can't stand another sinner. All of heaven is going to rejoice some day about you!" That was as far as I would go to tell them that they weren't so hot themselves.
So he stuck around and he organized us. He told me that I was very inefficient, that I should have cells to wash dishes, and cells to wash floors, and he had the whole thing shining up. To the boys he would say, "Don't you feel ashamed?" and he gave them this spiel and very good he was!
One day around June, we used to sell Social Forum, a paper that we had, and somebody was missing to sell it at the Sunday Masses at a certain church, so he said, "Katie, I'll go." I said, "You will go? My God you have to sell Social Forum, yelling 'Buy a Social Forum! A penny apiece! Fight Communism! A penny apiece!" It was a social justice paper. He said, "I can reel that off as easy as can be! I don't mean it, but it will help you." So I said, "Fine, you go and reel it out!" So he did.
About a month later they had a hunger march in Ottawa, and thousands of Communists went, so he said, "Katie, this is goodbye probably. I might be back but I am on a hunger march." This was sort of outlawed by the government and the police, but they couldn't stop them. They suggested they shouldn't do it. I said, "Oh, you are!" "Yes, we've got to protest. We've got to get those so-and-sos in Ottawa."
So I looked very thoughtful and I looked at his feet and I said, "You know, if you are going to walk 400 miles you need new shoes! And good walking shoes! And you need good, new socks. This is a fact." Then I looked in my little box and I had about five dollars and I said, "You and I are going out to the little store" where the poor people bought their stuff. He said, "You are going to buy me shoes and socks to go to Ottawa, and you a Catholic?"
I said, "I don't care a damn what you are going there for. I love the sinner, so you are a damn sinner, so I love you and I want your feet to be in good shape. That's my job. Your conscience is responsible for your ideas!" So I also threw in some foot salve, and thus equipped with a good lunch and a warm coat and good shoes, he departed.
So from Kingston I got a wire, collect. "Those bastards don't know a good paper." But of course the word 'bastard' was out and they wouldn't allow him to use it so they just put 'b' in the telegram. "I have been telling them about Social Forum. Send me by general delivery in Ottawa, a hundred copies." So I sent him a hundred Social Forum, so about two months they stayed there and camped someplace and they had meetings in all kinds of places.
And around about October when the weather got cold, back comes my John to live with us. So I let him in again and he started going to the Communist Hall and then I found him a job around November, washing dishes. It was quite a neat little job and got a little room next to Friendship House and departed for good this time.
So Christmas rolled around - and this is a year later - and I am packing the last parcels for the kids' party and our supper and the men's supper, and we are going to Midnight Mass to the Jesuit chapel three blocks down. In comes John. He says, "Katie, I have a present for you." So I said, "Look, you just worked six weeks. Never mind the presents. I appreciate the thought, but keep the money," and I invited him to our midnight snack. He said, "I will give it to you later."
So fine, I don't argue, I am busy and I go. So Olga Laplante and I are going to Midnight Mass and Olga says to me, "Do you see what I see?" I said, "What do you see?" The confessionals were all around the vestibule, upstairs, etc., about six of them there. She said, "I could have sworn John went to confession." I said, "No, he wouldn't be around here, he is a Communist! And how do we know he is a Catholic?" We didn't even know who he was because all we knew was that he was John!
So it came time to go to Communion at Midnight Mass and next to me is John, sure enough, receiving Communion! So you can't talk at this holy time, and I am just so absolutely flabbergasted that I can't think! Finally the Mass was over and we were going back and John walks up next to me, "How do you like my present, Katie?" I said, "You never told me..." He said, "You didn't ask me! That is what I like about Friendship House - never ask any questions! I was brought up by the Christian Brothers. I went to two years of college to the Basilians."
It developed that he was from quite a well-to-do family that got caught during the depression, and he couldn't find a job, so he went mining or something like that, and then he found the plight of the masses. For the first time in his life as a young man, he went to the parish priest to tell him about starting a strike and the guy threw him out and he left the Church and joined the Communist Party.
Okay, so John is back in the Church and he is married and he has a lot of nice children and they are all very good Catholics and he tells them stories about the days when he was in Friendship House when nobody asked him any questions.