Keep snacks in the car to share with others in need? I can do that!
In a letter written Sept. 1 of this year, Pope Francis says, “I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.” In addition, the pope promises, “each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence” (“Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis According to Which an Indulgence is Granted to the Faithful on the Occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy,” September 1, 2015).
Besides sounding fancy, what’s an indulgence, and do I want one? Well, according to the Indulgentiarum doctrina, which Paul VI issued in 1967, “An indulgence is the remission before God of the temporal punishment due sins already forgiven as far as their guilt is concerned.” To boil it down: if you go to confession for your sins and obtain an indulgence, the time that you would have had to spend in purgatory to atone for these wrongs is eliminated.
Less time in purgatory? Who doesn’t want that!
So how do we perform the spiritual and corporal works of mercy? The corporal works of mercy (corporal means bodily or physical) include actions that we can physically do for others. Things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and visiting the sick and imprisoned are very basic ways to live out our Christian faith and are relatively easy to implement.
Truth be told, though, I had to Google the spiritual works of mercy. This list includes instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing the sinner, comforting the sorrowful, forgiving all injuries, praying for the living and the dead and bearing wrongs patiently.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to look far to develop a Jubilee Year strategy for my family. In response to the pope’s proclamation of the Jubilee year, and in thanksgiving for the profound ways that Christ’s mercy had been experienced in their lives, two of my good friends from college began to develop a guidebook and group (or personal) study for the year. While in the process of writing the book, they reached out to hundreds of moms to brainstorm ideas of ways to live out the works of mercy in their day-to-day activities. The result, Divine Mercy for Moms, written by Michele Faehnle and Emily Jaminet, is the ultimate guide on how to practically incorporate the works of mercy into your family life. The ideas produced are simple and make obtaining the plenary indulgence accessible.
As part of their book, Faehnle and Jaminet created both a Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy Checklist for Busy Moms. The following is a partial list of their recommendations. (For a full list, you can download the checklists for free at www.divinemercyformoms.com.)
The Corporal Works of Mercy
Feed the hungry
—Bring a meal to a family who is going through a difficult time — especially the loss of employment.
—Keep snacks in your car to share with others in need.
—Remember that cooking for your family is an act of love.
Give drink to the thirsty
—Find ways to support clean water around the world.
—Encourage your family not to waste water.
—Remember that every time your child asks for a drink it can be an act of love!
Visit the sick
—Consider sending Mass cards for healing to someone who is ill.
—Drop off hot soup or groceries to a family that is battling the flu together.
—Take your children to visit a nursing home.
—Treat your children with love and understanding when they are sick.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy
Comfort the sorrowful
—Comfort your children when they are sad. Show them empathy in their suffering.
—Consider praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary for those suffering in the world.
—Reach out to those grieving the loss of a loved one, have experienced a miscarriage, are fighting cancer or who are experiencing other family problems. Mail a card, make a meal or share a word of concern for their pain.
Instruct the ignorant
—Teach your children the faith.
—Encourage someone to read a Catholic book.
—Consider volunteering at a vacation Bible school, a Catholic retreat or at a parish-wide event.
Forgive all injuries
—Remember to say “I’m sorry” when you are in the wrong.
—Participate in the sacrament of reconciliation.
—Work on a family environment where people apologize for their shortcomings.
Armed with this kind of advice, I’m sure to squeeze at least a few graces out of this year.
Maria Garabis Davis holds a Juris Doctor degree and a BA in theology. A former youth minister and now practicing attorney, she resides in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and four children.