Whenever one faithfully practices the Christian life by acting mercifully towards one’s neighbour, one’s concern actually encompasses Christ personally (Mt.25:40). As such, any act of mercy becomes fruitful and blossoms into eternal life. In order to be merciful, it is necessary to know specifically in what mercy consists. St. Augustine defines mercy as a “heartfelt sympathy for another's distress, impelling us to help him if we can.”
By exhorting us to be as merciful as is our Heavenly Father, Christ invites us to take a path, which is intrinsic to the nature of mercy, that is, a path leading to divine greatness manifested by our generosity in dealing with others. A simple act of mercy, then, may bring solace in a time of great need. (Prov.22:9) Since this generosity is, however, a characteristic chiefly belonging to persons of influence, authority or power, it is a distinctive feature of God, who being all powerful, manifests His goodness by being, Himself, all merciful. (Ex.34:6-7)
The ultimate formula for governing our lives is found in God’s greatest commandment, which obligates us to love Him above all things and our neighbour as ourselves. (Mt.22:35-40) The guidelines for keeping this greatest commandment are the avoidance of doing evil by observing the Ten Commandments (Ex.20:1-17) and earnestly doing good by practising the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. St Paul, while encouraging the performance of the works of mercy, nevertheless, pointed out that they should originate from a love for God Himself: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony”. (Col.3:12-14)
This love for God, which consists in keeping His commandments (Jn.14:15) finds concrete expression in the seven corporal and in the seven spiritual works of mercy.
These specifically are
- The corporal works of mercy
- To feed the hungry;
- To give drink to the thirsty;
- To clothe the naked;
- To shelter the homeless;
- To visit the sick;
- To visit those in prison;
- To bury the dead.
- The spiritual works of mercy
- To instruct the ignorant;
- To counsel the doubtful;
- To comfort the sorrowful;
- To exhort sinners;
- To bear wrongs patiently;
- To forgive offences willingly;
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Both the natural and the divine positive law impose a strict duty on us to carry out the works of mercy. Whilst the natural law requirement is based upon the principle that we are to do to others as we would have them do to us (Mt.7:12), the positive divine law comes from Christ under the supreme penalty of eternal damnation (Mt.25:41). The corporal works were each directly and explicitly stated by Christ. The spiritual works, however, are all implied in scripture and deal with a distress whose relief is of even greater imperative as well as more effective for the grand purpose of our creation, which is, eternal life.
The intrinsic character of both the spiritual and corporal works reveals that ‘we are our brother’s keeper’. (Eph.4:25) In the case of the spiritual works, Christ enjoins fraternal correction (Mt.18:15) as well as the forgiveness of injuries (Mt.6:14). A certain degree of tact and prudence is required in fulfilling the first four of the spiritual works as each case depends largely on the degree of distress to be aided, and the competency or condition of the one to whom the responsibility falls. (Col.4:6) However, the last three, to bear wrongs patiently, to forgive offences willingly and to pray for the living and the dead, are within the reach of all and, consequently, one may not dispense oneself on the plea that one lacks some special array of gifts required for their observance.
In this Year of Mercy, all of us who care about the quality of life in St. Lucia, are invited to redouble our efforts in order that the teachings of the Gospel of Life may bear greater fruit. For example, today, there are many people in our country who are genuinely misled and ignorant in regard to the life issues; they are unable to accept that abortion is nothing other than child killing and that contraception is contrary to the natural law. Imbued with a love of God, we must courageously embrace the task of instructing and guiding our ill-informed brethren. Likewise, we should counsel the doubtful, that is, those, for instance, who find themselves in critical moral situations and are uncertain as to what is the correct thing to do. True compassion requires that we give comfort to those who are depressed or are grieving because of mistakes they may have made, such as those, for example, who are contemplating suicide, or whose suffering arises from post abortion trauma or a broken marriage. (2Cor.7:10) It is always difficult to call sin by its proper name but, in charity, we must encourage the sinner who may be trapped in a situation of sexual cohabitation, of a same sex relationship or, of pornography addiction to look to Christ as their model and move towards a life of virtue (Jam.5:20).
In bearing witness to the teachings of Christ, we should be prepared to bear opposition patiently and, no doubt, we will suffer misunderstanding, abuse and even persecution for our witness to the Gospel of Life. (2Tim.2:10) Whatever offences and injustices we experience we should, in imitation of our most Blessed Lord (Lk.23:34; Acts.7:60), forgive readily and willing.
The application of the teachings of Christ in regard to the corporal works of mercy may include contributing to or providing a safe refuge or home for women in a crisis pregnancy situation. This is a work that Carifam is trying to establish and will, please God, become a reality in the new year. Equally, by visiting and praying outside places where pre-born children are killed is a work of mercy, regardless of the outcome. Praying for the living and the dead includes those who, while living are spiritually dead. (Apoc.3:1) That is, we should pray for the conversion of those working in the industries that promote the Culture of Death.
In all of this, it must not be forgotten that Mercy is Love's response to suffering and that the works of mercy demand more than a humanitarian basis if they are to serve as instruments in bringing about our eternal salvation. For the works of mercy to be salvific for us, their animating spirit must belong to the supernatural order, that is, must be rooted in the love of God above all things.
May the Mother of mercy and Refuge of sinners intercede for us that we may in this Year of Mercy courageously live the message of the Gospel of Life more faithfully and fully for the greater glory of God and the salvation of souls. (Is.56:1)
With prayers that the birth of the Son of God may be a source of great blessings for you and your family in this season of good will and throughout the New Year of grace, 2016.
Fr Linus F Clovis
Secretariat for Family & Life
Archdiocese of Castries
I should also like to take this opportunity to cordially invite you to join our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the Jordan from 7th to 22nd August, 2016. Forms may be found here: Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.