The Spiritual Works of Mercy in the Jubilee of Mercy
“We want to live this Jubilee Year in light of the Lord’s words: Merciful like the Father,” said Pope Francis in announcing this extraordinary Year of Mercy (Misericordiae Vultus, 13). With particular emphasis, he adds, “Let us open our eyes and see the misery of the world, the wounds of our brothers and sisters who are denied their dignity, and let us recognize that we are compelled to heed their cry for help! (Id., 15).
In our community, as elsewhere in our nation and world, there are many people in need of our material assistance. Jesus asks that we care for one another and be a “Good Samaritan” to those on the margins. It is a moral imperative that we give of ourselves and do corporal works of mercy for our sisters and brothers who are hungry or homeless or who lack adequate housing. Yet, as important as it is, if all we do is feed their bodies, we are not doing enough. As Jesus said when tempted in the desert, “One does not live by bread alone” (Matthew 4:4).
When he visited our sisters and brothers in need at Catholic Charities, Pope Francis did not simply offer them bread to eat, which would leave them hungry again later. He gave them spiritual sustenance as well, which provided them love and the hope that endures.
The human person is composed of more than a physical body. As the Catechism teaches, “The human person, created in the image of God, is a being at once corporeal and spiritual” (CCC 362). We are each both body and soul, which together forms a unified whole (CCC 364).
In being merciful to others, it is essential as followers of Christ to minister to the whole person, attending to their spiritual needs as well as their material needs. Spiritual mercy cannot be overlooked because the salvation of souls is so paramount to God’s plan. Furthermore, our Holy Father says, “the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special openness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith” (Evangelii Gaudium, 200).
Pope Francis says, “Let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15; CCC 2447).
Our Holy Father also tells us that when we appear before the Lord for judgment, “we will be asked if we have helped others to escape the doubt that causes them to fall into despair and which is often a source of loneliness; if we have helped to overcome the ignorance in which millions of people live, especially children deprived of the necessary means to free them from the bonds of poverty; if we have been close to the lonely and afflicted; if we have forgiven those who have offended us and have rejected all forms of anger and hate that lead to violence; if we have had the kind of patience God shows, who is so patient with us; and if we have commended our brothers and sisters to the Lord in prayer” (Misericordiae Vultus, 15).
Admittedly, the spiritual mercies at times might be difficult, or seemingly make for an awkward moment with family members or friends. For example, as Pope Francis acknowledges, “At times how hard it seems to forgive!” Many of us probably know someone who has struggled with this – more than once someone at a funeral has told me of their regret at never reconciling some estrangement with the deceased before it was too late. Or perhaps we have nurtured some grudge or resentment ourselves. However, as we look to Jesus on the Cross, we see that pardoning offenses “is the clearest expression of merciful love, and for us Christians it is an imperative from which we cannot excuse ourselves” (Id., 9).
Patience and forgiveness can be difficult, particularly if someone has hurt us grievously. Yet, we have in the gift of the Spirit the grace to do what is hard. Moreover, in forgiving, especially in “the hard cases,” we are blessed as much as the wrongdoer (cf. Matthew 5:7). Counsels our Holy Father, “Pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart. To let go of anger, wrath, violence, and revenge are necessary conditions to living joyfully” (Misericordiae Vultus, 9).
The door of mercy is open. Crossing that doorway, that threshold, opens our hearts and our lives to the ocean of mercy that God our Father offers us as his sons and daughters. Now let us share that divine love and mercy with others, each and every day.