It is time to begin a new series on the blog. On December 8 of this year, less than a month away now, the Church will begin its Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. There is a wonderful document from Pope Francis that, if you have not already read it, I strongly recommend you do so, soon.
It is a season of mercy in the Church, or at least we can make it so if we want to. And it is none to early to start to think about what exactly you and I can do to make it so. So often when we Catholics are confronted with these various ‘years’, it is easy for us to put them out of our mind or consign them to ‘something the Vatican is doing’ or ‘something the diocese is doing.’
Well, if it’s the Year of St. Paul or the Year of Consecrated Life, I guess that’s OK – we can’t do everything, after all. But it would be a true missed opportunity if that was our decision with the Year of Mercy. The world stands in urgent need of the mercy of God, and for all Christians and indeed all men and women of good will to show forth that mercy, each according to his or her abilities and state of life.
Now, the year has not even started and I am already a bit concerned that it is going off the rails, already losing the prime focus. I am concerned that the whole question of mercy in the Church is revolving almost exclusively around the questions of sex, love, marriage, divorce, and the ever-popular one of ‘who gets to receive the Eucharist?’
This is terrible, if this becomes the sole focus of the Year of Mercy. These are real questions that need real answers, and there are indeed real people who are really hurting and really need to be met by a compassionate, yet truth-telling, Church. Absolutely. But if this becomes all the Year of Mercy is concerned with, we have missed a great opportunity, a tragic failure to get the point.
For one thing, neither you nor I are part of the Church’s magisterium. Decisions and pastoral programs are crafted in Rome, in national bishops’ conferences, and in chancery offices. Almost everyone reading my blog is not involved in any of that. To make the Year of Mercy be all about things happening in Rome and in the bishops’ offices is to make it not about you and me and what we are doing with ourselves. I am not saying it’s intentional or thought-out, but it’s a wonderful way of letting ourselves off the hook. ‘Well, the Church (meaning the Pope and the bishops, of course!) needs to get its act together for gay people and divorced people and so forth. Not my problem!’
But that is not what Mercy is about. Not all of it, not by a long shot. And what the world is hungry for, desperate for, crying out for, is an outpouring of God’s mercy through the merciful choices of every human being, starting with you and me. And that’s what I want to talk about for the next fourteen weeks on this blog.
Mercy, you see, is expressed in works, works that can be done and in fact must be done by every baptized person, according to their means and abilities and state of life. But there is no one so poor, no one so incapable, that there is no work of mercy they can do. The Church in its kindness and thoughtfulness has codified the works of mercy into seven corporal works (concerned with the good of the body) and seven spiritual works (concerned with the good of the soul). And here they are:
The Corporal Works of Mercy
To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.
These are the fourteen great ways that we make the mercy of God a living reality in the lives of our brothers and sisters, these the principal ways we are to approach the Year of Mercy and make it our year, our plan of action for the year.
And so this blog for the next fourteen Wednesdays or so will discuss each work of mercy in turn, what it is and how we might think of living it out in our lives this year. The world needs it, now, and if you and I don’t do it, who exactly do we think will?