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Mercy Works Practical Love for the 21st Century by Mark P. Shea


To Pope Francis, Model and Gift of Mercy to the World

All booklets are published thanks to the generous support of the members of the Catholic Truth Society

CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY publishers to the holy see

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Contents Introduction to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3 Feed the Hungry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8 Give Drink to the Thirsty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12 Clothe the Naked . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Harbour the Harbourless . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 Visit the Sick . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 Ransom the Captive . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28 Bury the Dead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 Instruct the Ignorant . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36 Counsel the Doubtful . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40 Admonish the Sinner . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44 Bear Wrongs Patiently . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 Forgive Offences Willingly . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 Comfort the Afflicted . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57 Pray for the Living and the Dead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 Useful Organisations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65 All rights reserved. First published 2015 by The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road London SE11 5AY Tel: 020 7640 0042 Fax: 020 7640 0046. Copyright Š 2015 The Incorporated Catholic Truth Society. ISBN 978 1 78469 076 2

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Introduction to the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy “What must we do to be saved?” For early Christians the answer was compact with deeply incarnational meaning: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ!” If you believed in Jesus, you didn’t simply hold a theory about him; you were called to be his disciple and reorder your entire life in conformity with him. So Paul habitually spoke of the “obedience of faith” (Rm 1:5), and James said that “faith apart from works is dead” (Jm 2:26). Jesus was the first person in our tradition to point that out, which is why neither he nor his apostles ever talked about salvation through “faith alone” - except to condemn the idea as preposterous (see Jm 2:24). Instead Jesus spoke of salvation in precisely the way that his disciple John spoke of him: as Word made flesh. When Jesus talked about the salvation of the nations in Matthew 25, he didn’t theorise about faith alone but instead talked about what Catholic tradition would later call the corporal works of mercy: Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me

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drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” (Mt 25:34-36) Note that the saved sheep never heard of Jesus. They were members of “the nations” (that is, Gentiles, goyim, outsiders). Their baffled reply was, “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty,” and so on. They had no idea it was Jesus they were serving in the poor, dispossessed, naked and wretched. They just thought they were doing the decent thing. And yet, to them, the King spoke not a word of rebuke or reproach for their “works salvation”, nor a peep about their lack of the sacraments. Likewise, the goats hear nothing about failure to profess the Creed or receive any sacrament. In the parable, what was makeor-break for the goats as well as the sheep was how they treated the “least of these”. Now, as Catholics, we must note that the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is not the only thing Jesus has to say about salvation. He who gives us the parable also tells us, “He who believes and is baptised will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16) and, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (Jn 6:53). So sacraments do, in fact, matter. Therefore, some might still ask in confusion, “How do we put it all together?” The key is the simple recollection of St John of the Cross: “At the evening of life, we shall be judged on our love.”1

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The point of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats is not “You don’t need faith in Jesus in order to be saved.” Rather, it is that sacraments are given as sure encounters with grace, not as our sole encounters with grace. For Christ also comes to us through innumerable creatures, since all of creation is sacramental. And one of the sacramentals bringing us Christ is our neighbour - especially the least of our neighbours. For the stunning truth is that Christ is present in everybody you meet. How you treat them is how you treat him. And how you treat them is not merely “spiritual” (that is, with attention to their souls but none to their stomachs, wardrobe, or housing situation). A plumber who uses his skill to fix a single mother’s sink at no charge is doing as much a work of Christ (and for Christ) as the priest who hears her confession or gives her the Eucharist. So if you co-operate with grace, you are Christ’s feet and hands in the world and a gift of grace to your neighbour. Likewise, your neighbour - especially your poor neighbour - is God’s gift to you: a sacramental through whom Christ works in your soul. That’s why the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats does not remotely contradict the Catholic sacramental vision. Saying that God comes to us in the person of a beggar is not saying God does not come to us in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is, however, an emphatic denial that God saves by faith alone. Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia

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summed up the Church’s attitude toward this notion quite bluntly when he stated, “If we ignore the poor, we will go to hell.”2 Faith alone won’t cut it if you send a starving waif back out in the snow saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled” (Jm 2:16). That is a tonic reminder for Catholics about the Church’s ancient tradition of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The corporal works of mercy pertain to our bodily needs. They are: Feed the hungry Give drink to the thirsty Clothe the naked Harbour the harbourless Visit the sick Ransom the captive Bury the dead The spiritual works of mercy, in contrast, are: Instruct the ignorant Counsel the doubtful Admonish sinners Bear wrongs patiently Forgive offences willingly Comfort the afflicted Pray for the living and the dead Why does the Church tease out these seven further works of mercy from the data of Scripture? Because man

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does not live “by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God� (Mt 4:4). In this book we will look at these works of mercy, that we may, as 2 Peter 1:10 says, make our calling and election sure and, in union with our Lord Jesus, help renew the face of the earth.

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Feed the Hungry Norman Borlaug is not a guy you think of when it comes to world-historical heroism. He never starred in a movie, never ran for office, never led men into battle, and would not have been noticeable to you if you saw him in the street. But he saved the lives of a billion people. Borlaug was the father of the Green Revolution, a wonderful twentieth-century agricultural undertaking that bred fantastically fruitful strains of food plants and kept the growing population of the developing world from starving. If anybody stands a good chance of hearing from Jesus “I was hungry and you gave me food”, it will be Norman Borlaug, who goes down in history, without any possible comparison, as the guy who gave more food to the “least of these” than anybody who ever lived. Borlaug symbolises one pole of a dynamic tension between practical results and good intentions that always exists in the Catholic tradition. The woman at the temple treasury who put in two small copper coins is at the other pole (see Lk 21:1-3). In terms of “results,” they couldn’t be further apart. Yet the two have something in common: they did the most they could with what they had. We are called to do the same. Not all have the gift to found some gigantic enterprise that feeds the poor. But most of us can

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give our tithe - and then some - to those who do have such a calling. CAFOD and a boatload of other organisations wouldn’t exist without lots of ordinary folk like you and me faithfully pouring in our little copper coins according to our means so they can do their great work. All this is according to love, which God can multiply. God alone knows how many wars have been prevented because ordinary people took it upon themselves to buy a homeless man a cup of coffee or help an unmarried mother move into her flat or just spend an hour on a park bench listening to a lonely bore. It is impossible to calculate the good done by the works of charity the Christian tradition encourages. But our work is not done since millions are still in danger of starving to death and only about a third of us give to charity. In short, it’s not because we have just enough people from developed countries but far too many people from the developing world. It’s because starving people live under evil man-made systems that prevent the morethan-enough food in the world from reaching their hungry bellies. Instead it gets bottled up somewhere or turned to an unjust profit for some despot who loves gold and grinds the face of the poor. The solution is not to tell the poor person to kill his child so that we rich Westerners can have more disposable cash for our toys. It is to demand that the rich Westerner, the developing world tyrant or the exploitative corporate

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system give the poor woman what is rightly hers: enough food to eat. St John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity…“When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.” (CCC 2446) Merely doing the just thing, then, is not really the goal. What is called for is not mere fairness but love that goes above and beyond. So we feed the hungry to the best of our ability for two basic reasons. First, because the hungry are hungry, and second, because the hungry are Jesus. Medieval thinkers understood the idea that we know lesser truths more surely and greater truths less surely, just as we can see a candle clearly but not the sun. Similarly, the way we know we have fed the hungry is when they burp and pat their tummies. The way we know we have fed Jesus is purely because he tells us it is so. It is a classic example of God supernaturally revealing things we could not possibly know on our own. The presence of Jesus Christ in the poor is no more evident to the senses than is the presence of

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Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It is purely a matter of faith in his word. Such faith is necessary, for without the dignity Jesus gives the poor, the only thing visible to those who walk by sight and not by faith will be the social, economic and psychological pathologies that swarm around the poor like maggots. And the quick, easy and rational response of a society carefully instructed to dismiss the presence of Christ from its mind will be, not charity, but to cull the herd and eliminate contagion from the breed. The demand of Jesus to feed the hungry is challengingly open-ended. We are called, not to act from the Minimum Daily Adult Requirement question “What’s the least generosity I can get away with and still squeak into the Kingdom of Heaven?”, but, like Christ, to ask “How can I give my life away in love for God?” God’s project of salvation is so crazy and huge that only he could attempt it. We puny mortals chip in a pound or two and help a family here and there with a gift. Now and then some bright meteor like Norman Borlaug pitches in and dramatically rescues a billion souls. Meanwhile, we live in hope that our faith will be honoured where our ability to save a billion lives is lacking. After all, Jesus can do a lot with five loaves and two fish.

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