The Corporal Works of Mercy in the Jubilee of Mercy
The heart of the Gospel is mercy. Jesus asks us each to show this loving compassion to others in body and in spirit – in the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy.
Most would agree that one of the beautifully heartwarming moments of Pope Francis’ visit to Washington unfolded when he went to encounter our sisters and brothers in need who were gathered for a lunch given by Catholic Charities’ St. Maria’s Meals program, joined by the agency’s volunteers and staff members. Monsignor John Enzler, Catholic Charities’ president and CEO, said he will never forget the smiles on everyone’s faces as the Holy Father warmly greeted them, blessing those being served and those who serve.
Moments earlier, at adjacent Saint Patrick Church, Pope Francis provided spiritual consolation and hope in saying to those assembled there, “God is present in every one of you.” Then he added, “Charity is born of the call of a God who continues to knock on our door, the door of all people, to invite us to love, to compassion, to service of one another.”
While it is not every day that one is visited by the Pope, countless acts of charity and mercy are an everyday experience throughout our community and throughout the world. In great ways and in small ways, each day individuals, families and organizations help make the world a better place by coming to the aid of a neighbor. This always provides a mutual blessing – those served are blessed, and so are those who serve them.
Writing about Jesus’ works of mercy, Pope Francis says, “The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus, 8). Moreover, the teaching of our Savior “affirms that mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. In short, we are called to show mercy because mercy has first been shown to us” (Id., 9).
Beyond seeking mercy for ourselves, “Let us rediscover [the] corporal works of mercy,” urged our Holy Father. “We cannot escape the Lord’s words to us, and they will serve as the criteria upon which we will be judged: whether we have fed the hungry and given drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger and clothed the naked, or spent time with the sick and those in prison” (Id., 15, citing Matthew 25:31-45).
This loving compassion in providing for the material needs of others, especially those on the margins, along with the spiritual works of mercy that I will discuss in my next blog, are rooted in the Lord’s words and actions in the Gospel, and offer us a blueprint on how to live and love as Jesus did. Moreover, whatever we do for others, we do for Christ himself, and whatever we fail to do for them, we fail to do for him (Matthew 25:40, 45).
“In each of these ‘little ones,’ Christ himself is present. His flesh becomes visible in the flesh of the tortured, the crushed, the scourged, the malnourished, and the exiled, to be acknowledged, touched, and cared for by us,” exhorts Pope Francis (Misericordiae Vultus, 15). Those who share and those who receive the corporal works of mercy experience the visible, tangible reality of the love that Jesus manifested in his life, death on the Cross, and his Resurrection – a love that reveals God’s divine love and the fact that “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16).
The Archdiocese’s special website, mercy.adw.org, encourages people to reflect God’s love and mercy by being merciful ourselves in their personal daily lives through works of mercy, and it includes links to volunteer opportunities with Catholic Charities. People can also share their experiences via social media at #EncounterMercy.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, individually, and in our families, parishes, schools and ministries, we want to rediscover the mercy that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and make it our own. Seeing with eyes of faith, we are blessed to see in our neighbor the face of Jesus, and through our works of mercy, they too are blessed to encounter in us Jesus, “the face of the Father’s mercy,” as we share his love with them (Misericordiae Vultus, 1).