The Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy officially ends soon (November 20, 2016). Considering that fact, together with Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s canonization, perhaps it is time for a quick mercy checkup. While we still have some time left, let’s see how we’re doing in our individual application of the works of mercy. Under prayerful consideration, what would an examination of conscience tell us about how well we’ve been doing? How have we fared in carrying out the spiritual and corporal works of mercy?
The following checklists may provide a helpful starting point. They certainly are not intended to represent an all-inclusive list of activities that one might consider. Hopefully they will provoke your spiritual thought. Note that, in some cases, two or more works of mercy are combined into one category because of their close relationship to one another. For example, providing food, drink, clothing and shelter are grouped together in the first list.
CORPORAL WORKS OF MERCY
Fed the hungry, given drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked and sheltered the homeless:
• Donated food, clothing, furnishings or money to my local St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities, soup kitchen or homeless shelter?
• Worked as a volunteer at any of the above?
• Supported other apostolates that take care of the suffering—e.g. Knights of Columbus Christian Refugee Relief, Catholic relief Services, Food for the Poor?
• Given monetary aid nonjudgmentally to a person who was panhandling?
Visited the sick:
• Taken Communion to someone who is homebound or in the nursing home, hospital or hospice?
• Arranged to have a priest, deacon, or EMHC bring Communion to someone who is homebound or in a nursing home, hospital or hospice?
• Visited or called a friend, a fellow parishioner or family member who is homebound or in the nursing home, hospital or hospice?
• Sent cards or notes of encouragement to those are ill, hospitalized, etc.?
Visited the imprisoned:
• Spent time with someone imprisoned in their minds as they struggle with dementia?
• Supported a ministry that works with inmates?
• Participated in a ministry that works with inmates?
Buried the dead:
• Attended a funeral of a family member, friend or fellow parishioner?
• Served at a funeral or a reception conducted after a funeral?
• Supported a ministry that assists people with losses and grieving, such as Stephen Ministry?
• Worked in a ministry that provides support for people who are grieving?
• Sent cards or notes of condolences to those who have lost friends and family members?
SPIRITUAL WORKS OF MERCY
Counseled the doubtful:
• Asked the Holy Spirit to keep me in his presence such that I may discern when someone needs a kind word and my support?
• Provided someone with faith-oriented emotional support in their questions about their faith?
• Lived in a way that others can see the positive effects of my faith in my life?
Instructed the ignorant:
• Assisted with faith formation at my parish—be it for the youth, young adults, or adults?
• Sponsored someone for the Rite of Christian Initiation?
• Worked to improve my own understanding of the faith to be better equipped to help others?
• Upon praying for guidance as to the “what, when, where, why and how” surrounding what I perceive to be an opportunity to help someone save their soul, have I attempted in a humble, charitable way to talk with them about it? (This can require a great deal of prayer, reflection and preparation before even considering doing it. Consider getting guidance in advance from a trusted spiritual director and/or confessor.)
Comforted the afflicted:
• Visited or called a friend, a fellow parishioner or family member who is struggling with difficult issues?
• Sent a card or note of encouragement to someone going through a rough time?
• Supported a ministry that assists people going through difficult times, such as Stephen Ministry?
• Worked in a ministry that provides support for people who need a compassionate shoulder on which to lean?
Forgiven offenses and borne wrongs patiently:
• Taken the time to pray for mercy and forgiveness on my part toward the person whom I perceive to have offended or hurt me
• Let it go and given it over to God to handle, forgiving the person for past transgressions? (If we don’t forgive, WE, and only we, are the ones being held hostage by our lack of forgiveness!)
• Prayed for that other person? (If I still feel an emotional sting or jab when I think about them, I may need to pray more for the grace to fully forgive them.)
Prayed for the living and the dead:
• Consistently included (for example, daily) prayers for deceased friends, family, religious and clergy in my special intentions?
• Similarly prayed for peace and comfort for those who have lost loved ones? (Keeping a prayer book or list of these and other intentions, and periodically reviewing it prior to or during prayer can be helpful.)
• Prayed the Rosary for the living, and for the dead and their survivors?
• Lit votive candles for the living, and for the dead and their survivors?
• Had Masses said for the living and for the dead and their survivors? (Consider Gregorian Masses for the souls of particular deceased parties.)
Increasing Your Mercy
If, as I did when compiling these lists, you find in reading them that you have not focused as much as you would have liked on some works of mercy, there still is some good news. The good news is that self-awareness is the first step toward changing one’s behaviors. Once we’re aware of a need to behave differently, we can use our God–given free will and intellect, with God’s grace, to craft and implement a plan of change. Through the repeated practice of a behavior, we build a pattern of behavior or a habit. And as Matthew Kelly reminds us, when we change our habits, we will change our lives.
If we look to Scripture, we will see that practicing appropriate habits is not really optional. It actually is an imperative from Our Lord and Savior. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus reminds us that the greatest commandment is “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He illustrates this with the parable of the Good Samaritan. How many times have we passed by someone who needed our help, averting our attention from them, and ignoring them, like the priest and the Levite in the parable? Take the case of the homeless panhandlers, for example. For years, I judgmentally chose not to give them a few bucks for fear that they would “misuse” it. How merciful is that?
In the end, as I’ve heard it said, many of us who are actively practicing our faith as Christians, and seriously trying to do the right thing, will be called to answer more for sins of omission perhaps than for our sins of commission. In Matthew 25:41-46, Jesus tells us
And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing…Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
The Gospel seems to be pretty clear on this point: We must, not should, help our suffering brothers and sisters if we are to live as true Christian disciples. To that end, consciously seeking ways to show our love of God and neighbor through the performance of works of mercy should be a high priority, not an afterthought. We truly have been blessed by Pope Francis’ declaration of this year as an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Let us and re-examine the way we practice mercy. Let us follow Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s example and revitalize our efforts to “be merciful just as [our] Father is merciful.”