Works of mercy PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 20 February 2016 13:18



It’s good to be reminded about these very basic practical expressions of authentic charity especially since we are now in the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Our Catechism tells us that “the works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”

I know that in the current play of things, these works of mercy have been practically exiled to the backburner such that hardly anyone, especially those in very good positions in life and even the so-called well-educated, cares for them. That’s the sad reality today!

Ask people in random about “works of mercy,” and most likely you’ll get a blank stare. Same with the Ten Commandments. Ask them about these divine precepts, so fundamental in our lives, and you’re likely to meet a primitive ignoramus.

Sometime ago, I was referring to the sixth and ninth commandments in a talk, without specifying what they were, and many asked me later what I was talking about. And these were already professional men, some of them alumni of Catholic schools! I almosthad a cardiac.

Of course, that might be a harsh way to describe the situation now. I know that even without being aware of them, one way or another, people manage to do something with respect to the “works of mercy” and the Ten Commandments.

But we need to put more teeth into the observance of these works of mercy. That’s because they are the ones that keep us grounded in our humanity and fraternity, before they get spoiled with all sortsof rationalizations that we can now easily make.

Without this grounding, we tend to get self-absorbed, building our own world and fantasy, and so propped up by a systematic web of justifications that we would become totally blinded by our own self-generated self-righteousness. That’s when we would need afirst-class disaster to wake us up!

This is the ticklish predicament we usually meet in our daily life today. It’s true that we have to be prudent and discreet, knowing that the world is full of tricks. But prudence and discretion should never be an excuse for us not to meet the basic demands of charity as encapsulated in the works of mercy.

I refer to that automatic, mindless law that prohibits giving alms to beggars in the streets. Of course, I know the reasons and assumptions behind that law. They have their proper weight.

But that law, purely human and crafted for purely practical ends, does not take away, nor even diminish, our duty to take care of those who truly are in need. Its legitimate rationale, which should be given due attention, cannot erase the fact that there are people who are in great need of help on a daily basis.

What we need to do is to be discerning every time we meet a beggar, and to always favor the demands of charity and mercy when our prudence and discretion cannot clearly establish the reason not to give or share something.

We just cannot, as a principle, refrain from giving alms to street beggars. That would be undermining the proper functioning of our heart, that is meant for love and caring for one another.

The errors of prudence that we can commit in this area do not justify risking the deformation of our heart in this way. We have to trust that with God’s grace and ways, even our own errors, committed in good faith, can work for the good in some way.

And lest we think that these works of mercy should be done only in a passive way, that is, waiting for the opportunities to do so, we should understand that by Christ’s command, these works have to be done in an active and even aggressive way.

We need to do them in season and out of season, because they are the way to make us like Christ who identifies himself with anyone who is in need of something, either spiritually or corporally.

The works of mercy can truly indicate if we are living the very life of Christ, and not just a caricature of it.

Our Catechism says: “Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works consist in feeding the hungry,sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.” (2447)

“Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity.”

Let’s always do works of mercy!