St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (St. Edith Stein) wrote, “On the question of relation to our fellow men — our neighbor’s spiritual need transcends every commandment. Everything else we do is a means to an end. But love is an end already, since God is love.”
These words express a great truth and they should be at the heart of every action we perform for another, especially as we seek to enter more deeply into the very heart of God given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.
While toy collections, food drives and charity bazaars demonstrate a care and concern for our neighbor at Christmas time, Holy Mother Church outlines fourteen ways through which we can show love of neighbor every day of the year. She calls them the Works of Mercy.
The Works of Mercy fall into two categories — corporal works of mercy and spiritual works of mercy. The former aids our neighbor’s physical needs, the latter helps our neighbor’s spiritual needs. Both are important.
When we think of merciful acts, we most frequently think of the corporal works of mercy. They are:
*** Feeding the hungry
*** Clothing the naked
*** Giving drink to the thirsty
*** Sheltering the homeless
*** Tending the sick
*** Visiting prisoners
*** Burying the dead
Our toy collections, food drives, and charity bazaars fall into this category of charitable actions.
However, in our own culture it is often the spiritual works of mercy that are most needed. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said this about the poverty of the West:
“There are different kinds of poverty. In India some people live and die in hunger. But in the West you have another kind of poverty, spiritual poverty. This is far worse. People do not believe in God, do not pray. People do not care for each other. You have the poverty of people who are dissatisfied with what they have, who do not know how to suffer, who give in to despair. This poverty of heart is often more difficult to relieve and to defeat.”
Mother Teresa’s words encourage us toward the spiritual works of mercy. They are:
*** Converting the sinner
*** Instructing the ignorant
*** Counseling the wayward
*** Comforting the sorrowing
*** Bearing adversity patiently
*** Forgiving offenses
*** Praying for the dead
These holy undertakings do much to relieve the poverty of heart so abundantly present in our contemporary culture. Opportunities to exercise the works of mercy present themselves to us each day. And, regrettably, we often let them pass by.
Yesterday, we looked into ourselves a little more deeply regarding the degree of our “charitable outlook.” Using the self-knowledge we acquired plus our resolution to enter more deeply into the season of Advent and the spirit of Christmas, let us ask God to help us ignite a fire of divine love in the hearts of others that will last for all eternity. Keep this in mind as you work today’s Spiritual Exercise.
Today’s Spiritual Exercise:
1. What was the last corporal work of mercy I performed? Using my insights from yesterday, what was my motivation and attitude of heart while performing it?
2. What was the last spiritual work of mercy I performed? Again, what was my motivation and attitude of heart while performing it?
3. What corporal work of mercy can I perform today? Based on my own interior recollection, what do I wish to bring to this act? How can I do so?
4. What spiritual work of mercy can I perform today? What do I wish to bring to this act and how can I do so?
5. In light of the above, what one charitable action would God have me perform today? What makes me think so? What is my response to Him? How can I follow through?
Copyright 2020, by Johnnette Benkovic Williams. All rights reserved.