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Getting the spiritual works of mercy right


Por não ter passado tempo suficiente ou visitado o meu próximo que necessitava.

Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ - published on 05/25/21

Basic soul care for Christian communities

True or false? “You can’t just talk the talk—you’ve got to walk the walk.”

Don’t answer just yet.

True or false? “Don’t judge people by what they say—judge them by what they do.”

Regarding #1: Yes, but, someone has to be able to “talk the talk” or people won’t know why they should “walk the walk.”

Regarding#2: Yes, but not always. What if what’s said is true, life changing, even life saving? Wouldn’t you want to hear that truth, even from someone who wasn’t living it well? Suppose I say, “Daily exercise is essential for good health!” but then live as a couch potato? What I say may be less credible, but that doesn’t make the life changing, lifesaving words less true.

In this present series on Christian community (see Part One, Part Two, Part Three), we’ve identified the nature of and need for Christian fellowship, looking at some deficiencies that need to be overcome.

Let’s turn now to the how of living the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. Hear Saint Peter: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)

I take that as my measure because, while I admit that not everyone needs to be a trained theologian or a seasoned apologist, every Christian who is past childhood must be able to offer some testimony on behalf of Christ and offer, at a minimum, some form of spiritual first aid.

Basic standards

Let’s have a quick look at the Spiritual Works of Mercy and identify “a basic standard of care.”

  1. “Admonish the sinner.” Can we do this without appearing judgmental? People who’ve never been in the same room with a Bible know the verse “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” having no idea of what it means in context, yet seem to always have it at the ready. Scripture makes clear that we have an obligation to alert people in danger: “My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)
  2. “Instruct the ignorant.” So many people know little true and much erroneous about the Catholic faith. People need to be directed to the truth—that means we must be familiar with Sacred Scripture and a good catechism. “Why Do Catholics Do That?” by Kevin Orlin Johnson is a good book to have on hand.
  3.  “Counsel the doubtful.” People in real doubt (as opposed to lazy believers using doubt as an excuse) are in great pain and need our compassion. They should be guided to a good confessor and a good spiritual director—but alas, these are in short supply! Nonetheless, we can pray with and for the doubtful, and offer to walk with them through the doubt to the filial trust that God desires for us.
  4. “Comfort the sorrowful.” Many grieving people are depicted throughout Scripture. Let’s recall then: “Woe to the solitary man, for if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10-11). It can be painful, yet also greatly fruitful, to enter into another’s sorrow. We need to be ready to lift up another person; we should also be ready to walk with him, perhaps even a long way, because grieving takes time.
  5. “Bear wrongs patiently.” The wrongs we suffer can easily lead to resentment, which is one of the worst spiritual toxins. The advice I often give (and live—sometimes!): “Give people the benefit of the doubt; always assume that everyone is having a worse day than you. And remember that you have already offended God infinitely, yet you have received mercy—pay it forward.”
  6. “Forgive all injuries.” I tread lightly here, for I know my own weakness. I don’t want to sound glib. It’s to easy to say, “Forgiving others brings you healing.” That’s true, but sometimes we need healing before we can forgive. Seek for the healing you need, and commend all to God’s justice and mercy.
  7. “Pray for the living and the dead.” We at least promise to pray for others when asked; I fear that we have forgotten our privilege and duty to pray for the dead. Many contemporary funerals have become quasi-canonizations. Have we forgotten about Purgatory and the need to intercede for the dead?

I want to be part of a community committed to these seven—I bet you do too. It can’t happen unless we do it together. Let’s get started.

When I write next, I will speak of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

Spiritual Life
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