The Church knows Christians are often prone to stay on the sidelines, so it offers us 7 concrete ways to get in the game.
Mark Twain observed: “Everyone complains about the weather, but no one does anything about it.” Analogously, lots of folks speak about the need for Christian community, but they don’t speak much of the practical details of what a Christian community can and should do.
Christians can be very good about talking and less good about listening. Christians can be good about praying—especially when talking to God about how to govern the world—and less adept about hearing what God has to say. Christians can generate much enthusiasm for praising charity, an enthusiasm known to wane when it comes to actually doing something charitable. These facts are not new.
So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Church offers us a remedy for fallen man’s inclination to make gestures and strike poses (and nowadays, signal virtue) without actually getting anything done. The Church has wisely commended to us the Corporal Works of Mercy. Let’s look at these seven and reflect briefly on how they may be lived by a family, a parish, or a group of friends in the Lord.
- To feed the hungry: This work can take many forms, from not wasting food, to inviting someone to dinner, to working at a soup kitchen, to helping to stock an emergency food pantry at your parish. The local Saint Vincent de Paul Society is always looking for people to lend a hand.
- To give drink to the thirsty: Much like feeding the hungry, this work can take many forms. Working to secure clean water for communities is literally a matter of life and death. If there’s not a local project available to help, you can support Lifewater International.
- To clothe the naked: Most families I know lament the high price of clothing. In hard times, struggling families are stretched to the limit; in colder climates, the right clothes are a necessity. If there’s not a local program to support, check out the Free Clothes for Needy Families Program.
- To shelter the homeless: Shelter is a fundamental need. Homelessness, which has exploded in the United States in recent years, is a complex problem. I have no broad solution to offer. I do know that folks who provide shelter always need support. The Salvation Army almost certainly has a facility nearby that needs you.
- To visit the sick: This is a constant need. The Covid Interruption has made visiting the sick at once more urgent and more difficult. Visiting medical facilities is still complicated in many areas. Check with your parish to see if there are members who are homebound and would welcome a friendly face and an extra set of hands.
- To ransom the captive: Two religious communities, the Trinitiarians and the Order of Our Lady of Ransom, took on as their primary work the rescue of Christians who had been abducted and enslaved by invasions of hostile religionists. While such outrages still happen today in some parts of the world, closer to home, there are people who are in bondage to addictions of many kinds. Twelve Step Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and others like them are always in need of donations and volunteers.
- To bury the dead: In the United States, this work of mercy is considered controversial and has been the object of lawsuits—when the dead in question are children slain by abortion. Laws requiring the burial of fetal remains have been fought in court. Efforts by the Knights of Columbus and well as various parishes and dioceses to bury fetal remains at their own expense have been resisted. Yet these good groups will not let the victims of abortion go unmarked and unmourn. Many have built memorials to honor all the victims of abortion. Check with your local parish or Knights of Columbus or diocese to learn what you can do to help.
The practical needs of the world are as persistent as they are overwhelming. We can’t do everything; we dare not do nothing; we can almost always do something. And the wisdom of the Church is that the good work we do can be so much better when we do it together.
When I write next, I will speak of a neglected aspect of the spiritual life. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.