Looking for a Lenten resolution?
Pope Francis has a good recommendation in his 2016 Lenten message: “In an ever-new miracle, Divine Mercy shines forth in our lives, inspiring each of us to love our neighbor and to devote ourselves to what the Church’s Tradition calls the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. These works remind us that faith finds expression in concrete, everyday actions meant to help our neighbors in body and spirit: by feeding, visiting, comforting and instructing them.”
“In general, works of mercy are those charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbors in their bodily and spiritual needs,” said Father of Mercy Wade Menezes, who is a frequent EWTN guest. “They help address the person’s personal life in such areas as faith, prayer, the reality of sin and forgiveness, embracing one’s crosses, relationships and the reality of judgment and mercy,” he continued.
Echoing Pope Francis’ address, Father Menezes explained, “It is precisely because the human person is a body-soul composite that the spiritual works of mercy are just as important as the corporal works of mercy. Both the corporal and spiritual aspects of the human person need to be nurtured and maintained regularly.”
Spiritual works of mercy are “readily available to those who want to sincerely practice them according to their particular state in life … [as] part of the Church’s patrimony,” he added.
Pray for the Living and the Dead
Family practices like the daily Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet can include intentions of praying for the living and the dead, especially relatives and loved ones, noted Father Menezes. “We can also strive for the plenary indulgence and apply it to self or to a deceased person who is known or unknown to us.”
Have a Mass said for a friend or family member going through a tough time or who has died, advises the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) about living “The Spiritual Works of Mercy” (USCCB.org/beliefsandteachings).
Even the youngest children understand this work. Deanna Bartalini, the director of religious education at St. Edward Catholic Church in Palm Beach, Fla., and a columnist for the Amazing Catechists (AmazingCatechists.com) website, has her students pray for each other “to bring home the point God knows whatever that person needs,” she said. “What matters is you pray for that person.”
Comfort the Sorrowful
As Bartalini tells children, “If you know your grandparents or mom are upset about something, make them a card. Or call them up and tell them, ‘I love you.’ Do simple things.”
Adults can do the same. Father Menezes said, when caring for the sorrowful, one can “remind them of the reality of God’s grace in daily living; and the rewards of eternal life can help cast out sorrow that one might be experiencing.”
Cook a meal for someone facing a difficult time or just listen to others share their pain, advises the USCCB spiritual works of mercy list: “Even if we aren’t sure of the right words to say, our presence can make a big difference.”
Instruct the Ignorant
Read more about the Catholic faith, learn it, and talk with others about Catholic beliefs, or volunteer to help with religious-education programs, recommends the U.S. bishops’ conference.
Encouraging another to practice the faith, return to the sacraments and enroll in an adult faith-formation class are ways we can instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful and comfort the sorrowful, noted Father Menezes.
“You can teach them,” Bartalini counsels older children about how they can help their younger siblings learn the faith, including how to bless themselves.
Joanne Purcell, a religious-education teacher at her parish, St. Theresa Catholic Church in Trumbull, Conn., said her third-graders go home excited to share something they’ve learned about the faith with their parents. “The children are so honest and so naturally drawn to their faith and to the love of God,” Purcell said, “and they share it in a way that’s nonconfrontational. We can learn from them.”
Indeed, parents have a great responsibility in this spiritual work of mercy, emphasized Robert Stackpole, director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy, in “The Spiritual Works of Mercy,” part of a parish renewal program (TheDivineMercy.org/library).
The Catechism states that couples, through the grace of matrimony, “receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children” (2225). Stackpole enumerates several ways, including reading Bible stories, stories of the saints’ lives and quality Christian works like The Chronicles of Narnia to children and grandchildren.
Father Menezes points out parents can also teach their children about specific virtues to help them stay away from or counteract the opposite corresponding sin or vice.
Counsel the Doubtful
According to Father Menezes, “Encouraging family members in practices of the faith — like the importance of daily prayer and practicing and living the sacraments — can also help cast out doubt in one’s life.” Another practical way, notes the USCCB, is to be an example of following Christ with personal witness and sharing with others good Catholic books about matters of faith.
Bear Wrongs Patiently
We want others to bear our wrongs patiently, so we have to want to do the same for them, said Father Menezes.
“Teaching our children about the virtue of patience, and having parents practice the virtue of patience themselves, can teach children at the same time to bear wrongs patiently. And teaching them to forgive others will help them to see the great gift they receive when others forgive them,” he said.
As Purcell observed, “You might want somebody to know their faith inside and out, but that’s not where they’re at. Knowing that helps with bearing wrongs, knowing that God is working in their lives, and leaving it to God.”
Forgive All Injuries
In the sacrament of penance, we receive God’s mercy, Bartalini instructs her young students, stressing, “God wants to give us that love and mercy, but we’re not allowed to keep it; we have to give it out.”
Pope Francis told everyone the same thing during Mass last Sept. 10: “f you are not merciful, how can the Lord be merciful with you, since we will be judged by the same standard by which we judge others?”
Purcell said not forgiving someone who hurts you “eats you up. It changes the loving person you’re meant to be. Resentment doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s definitely about forgiveness. Because God is so loving and forgiving, we’re supposed to pass it on.”
Admonish the Sinner
Father Menezes described how “having the courage to charitably approach a loved one, relative or friend who is living in objective, public and manifest grave sin is one example of admonishing the sinner.” “Admonish” comes from the Latin word meaning “to warn.”
Yet this spiritual work, traditionally listed first, is possibly the most difficult to practice, especially in today’s culture, with its spirit of relativism. Stackpole labels this work as “tough love.” Admonishing in charity someone for immodest dress or use of pornography or explaining “to a gay friend that his or her lifestyle is unnatural and [he or she] will never find true fulfillment, peace or healing but through Jesus Christ” will make you unpopular and likely get you accused of bigotry or intolerance, he explained.
Yet to admonish the sinner means speaking the truth in love (from Ephesians 4:15), “with both courage and compassion,” he said. The virtue of prudence is important, as well as “finding just the right moment and just the right words.”
Added Father Menezes, “To ‘admonish’ does not negate the reality of charity in all things as the greatest of the virtues.”
Joseph Pronechen is a
Register staff writer.