Category Archives: Holy Year of Mercy

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Giving Drink to the Thirsty & Instructing the Ignorant

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nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“Hunger may be among the worst forms of physical suffering by sheer magnitude, for many people go hungry. On the other hand, thirst is perhaps nearly so common, for many lack access to water. The homeless unemployed perhaps wants for food, water, shelters and at times, clothes. Nor was thirst unknown in ancient times. Much of what I said about hunger applies here, too.

Giving drink to the thirsty is an act which often is even more appreciated than feeding the hungry, in particular during the hot summer months. Those that have the space in their car (or truck, minivan, etc) could consider buying one of those 24- or 36-count packages of water bottles and stowing them on the floor of the vehicle to hand out to the homeless. These folks generally appreciate it, and it is fulfilling one (or, if you add a small snack, two) works of mercy which can literally be done as a part of a normal commute by handing out the bottles while waiting at stoplights.

In the Psalms we read that “From Thy lofty abode Thou waterest the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of Thy work” (Psalm 104:13, or Psalm 103:13 depending on numbering). Water too is a gift from God, and one which is meant for the benefit of us all. On the other hand, this verse became the subject of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ inaugural address when he became master of the sacred page (theologian) at the University of Paris. In that address, he stated that God’s watering the mountains (or hilltops) was an allegory for His pouring forth knowledge and understanding on the wise [1]. God waters the mountains, which in turn fertilized the plains and fields—God gives His knowledge and understanding and wisdom to some, who in turn share it with others who are ignorant.

“Soaking” up knowledge like a sponge, or “thirsting for knowledge,” or “drinking” in knowledge: all of these are rather natural expressions. If our spiritual hunger is for righteousness—which is opposed to sin—we might be said also to have a spiritual thirst is for knowledge and understanding and wisdom. In fact, the Beatitude actually says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” but righteousness means both right acts and right desires: so that we must know what to believe and what to desire and how to live to be truly righteous. Unfortunately, we are born in a “double darkness,” as Saint Thomas Aquinas notes, “of sin and ignorance.”

Thus, to instruct the ignorant is to help lift this darkness. As with counsel, a part of this instruction may take the form of discussing what is good and what is evil; what is of God and what is of the world. Good spiritual instruction therefore pertains to one (or more) of three things: what we ought to believe (creed, faith), what we ought to desire (worship, hope), and how we ought to live (morality, charity).

In my own experience, there are three things pertaining to our faith about which people are ignorant and thus in need of instruction:

There is a lot of ignorance (or confusion) about what the Church really teaches in a given doctrine or dogma, and by extension what the Church does not teach as doctrine or dogma. As Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, most people do not hate the Church (or her teachings), but rather hate what they misunderstand the Church to be (or to teach).

There is much ignorance (or, again, confusion) about what the Bible really says (and really means), in particular what Christ says an means whenever He speaks in the Gospels. We are all at times in the place of the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts, asking “How can I [understand the Scriptures], unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:30).

There is widespread ignorance about the relationship between morality and love, between worship and hope, and between faith and the creeds. Morality is frequently treated as only “a list of do’s and don’t” rather than the demands of love. Communal worship and the liturgy are often equated with rote rituals and dead motions and empty words rather than right reverence and the nearest we get to heaven on earth. And the creed and its associated dogmas become extra distraction to hinder us from forming a relationship with Christ (like so many barnacles on a ship, as one person put it) rather than clarifications about Who God has revealed Himself to be.

Some of these things are nuanced and some contain many layers of meaning and levels of complexity. Others are more straightforward, but have been given nuances which they are not meant to contain [2]. Moreover, one cannot effectively teach what he does not know, so to instruct the ignorant requires the sacrifice of time spent in studying as well as that in teaching. And on the other hand, because knowledge of Truth comes from God, prayer is an active part of this particular work of mercy.”  Amen.  Amen.  Amen.   Prayer & Study.  Study & Prayer.  Holy study and prayer are work, to the glory of God.  

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

—Footnotes—
[1] Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are three gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus, between the first two spiritual works of mercy we have also encountered four gifts of the Holy Spirit.

[2] This is common with any verse containing moral teachings, and historically also has happened to verses with theological meanings. Both still happen today, though the former is more common than the latter. More often still, they contain the straightforward literal meaning and the nuanced (metaphorical, allegorical, etc) meaning, but the latter is called upon to make the former disappear. Thus a clear and consistent proscription against sodomy becomes merely a teaching about “hospitality.” And, to be fair, attempting to sodomize a person is certainly less-than-hospitable.”

Love, and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Feeding the Hungry & Counselling the Doubtful

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I have the privilege of volunteering at the St Vincent de Paul food pantry here in Madison. I enjoy working with our clients to help them shop according to their allocated needs. A first lesson in obedience was accepting my assignment to St John’s Social Service Center in Cincinnatti when I was a Dominican novice. I thought the prison was much cooler!!! A good lesson. Appears, I now have a “thing” for food pantries, in all their diversity. 🙂

nicene_guy
-by Nicene Guy

“Hunger is one of the greatest causes of sorrow in this world, though not the greatest. And the hungry are everywhere, and in all times: there seldom need to seek them out to find them. “The poor you will always have,” we are promised (Mark 14:7). We should pity their plight, whether it’s merely economic or whether the problem goes deeper.

Alleviating hunger is a simple task, but it is not easier for being this. Moral problems seldom are. We need not get caught up in idle speculation as to why any given person is in his situation (and with the economy being as bad as it is, there are surely more people who honestly can’t find work than are merely “lazy”). They are our sisters and brothers in need, parts of our human family who are “down on their luck.”

To feed them is an act of mercy.

On the other hand, it is also an act of justice. It is justice towards them, as it recognizes their dignity as human being. Still more is is justice towards God, obedience to the Old Law. We read in Leviticus that “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you glean the stray ears of your grain. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the LORD, am your God” (Leviticus 23:22). In Deuteronomy, we read even more instructions of this sort:

“When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf there, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the alien, the orphan or the widow, that the LORD, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were once slaves in Egypt; that is why I command you to observe this rule” (Deuteronomy 24:19-22).

If this is not explicitly a commandment to actively go forth and feed the hungry—poor, orphan, widow, and foreigner—as in the Discourse on the Judgment of the Nations, it is at the least a commandment to leave them the means to feed themselves.

Moreover, it is a commandment tied to the remembrance of who the Israelites are: you were once slaves in Egypt. And before that, they were foreigners in Egypt (this during a time of famine). In bringing this to mind with the commandment, God reminds the Israelites that they were once poor and hungry, and that this was so until He rescued them from their slavery.

That these commandments were given during the 40 years wandering in the desert, then the the message becomes clearer still. Only by God’s provenance would the Israelites survive; He would provide their daily food, and so they must depend on Him for it. The same of course is true after they entered and claimed the Promised Land, and for that matter the same is true for us now, in a time of advanced farming techniques which yield immense crops.

And the hungry we still have.

Hunger is not only for food, however. I mentioned before that physical hunger is among the worst forms of suffering which is common in the world, but there are worse. After His baptism, Christ entered the desert, where He was tempted by the devil: the first temptation was against His hunger after forty days’ fasting:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4)

Our spiritual hunger is for “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” and above all for the Word which comes forth from God: Jesus Christ, God the Son. This is so much so that He told us that we must “gnaw” His flesh and “guzzle” His blood (John 6:53) to have life within us, a moment which foreshadowed the institution of the Eucharist and presaged the Passion.

We know (or “see”) these things through the eyes of faith, and so faith is what helps feed the “spiritual” hunger. But faith is undermined by doubt: thus, counseling the doubtful is spiritually akin to feeding the physically hungry. For its own part, counsel is on of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 11:1-2), and is sometimes called “right judgment.” With the gift of counsel, we know what is right and what is wrong, and choose to do what is right.

At a glance, this may seem to fit with others of the spiritual works of mercy—admonishing sinners, instructing the ignorant—which are indeed related to counseling the doubtful [1]. On the other hand, venerable bishop Fulton Sheen once stated that “Atheism, nine times out of ten, is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief is born of sin, not of reason.” In short, many a man who does says “I do not believe in God” means “I am sleeping with my neighbor’s wife.”

To return to the connection between physical and spiritual hunger, and the feeding of both, we would notice that there is often a second (seeming) reason for the loss of faith, that is, for “hunger.” It is a variation on the problem of evil: “Many Christians are bad people, therefore Christianity is false.” These days the argument is sometimes recast as, “Priest sex abuse scandal. Therefore, Catholicism is false.” From a strictly intellectual standpoint, both versions of the argument are laughable. That some Christians behave badly, and that some subset of those are priests, does not prove or disprove the veracity of the creeds.

People do not, however, operate on a purely intellectual plane, and so these sins become the cause of doubts [2]. In a sense, we all “hunger for righteousness,” and many turn elsewhere when they perceive that they have not found it in religion. The problem is that righteousness is not found merely in religion, but specifically in God; we look for righteousness in men and catch glimpses of it, while missing it in God where it is perfected.

To counsel the doubtful then requires that we return them to God, from Whom comes faith, from whose mouth (and side) comes our spiritual nourishment, our “daily bread.” Thus, while we may counsel directly and physically, we might also apply to God by prayers for counsel—whether for ourselves or for another.”                 -AMEN!!!  AMEN!!! AMEN!!!  Save me, Lord!!!  SAVE ME!!!! -MPM

—Footnotes—
[1] Indeed, counseling and instructing are both related to the intellect: the former to the “practical” intellect, the latter to the “speculative” intellect.

[2] Doubts? Perhaps. On the other hand, these “doubts” often take the original form, again modified: “I am mad that priests have abused children” often and easily becomes cover for “Therefore, why shouldn’t I be allowed to commit my (supposedly minor) sin of choice?””

Love and always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Holy Year of Mercy – Works of Mercy: Acts of Love & Service

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nicene_guy

-by Nicene Guy

“One of the pillars of Lent is almsgiving (and by extension, almsdeeds). On the surface, almsgiving and almsdeeds mean only to give away money or goods to those in need. However, almsdeeds go beyond this: they are the works of mercy. I will be posting about the works of mercy each week during Lent, pairing one spiritual work of mercy with one corporal work of mercy and then offering my thoughts on the pair. I will begin these reflections with an introductory essay about the nature of mercy.

Preliminary Remarks: On Justice, Mercy, and Salvation

Justice means to give to another that which is his due. It is not always comforting to us, in that it sometimes requires some sacrifice on our part: it may cost us something sometimes, but the cost is something which we owe to another.

Mercy goes beyond this. It is sorrow over another’s distress and an attempt to alleviate or relieve that distress. It is a fruit of charity, and can be related to sympathy, which is the sorrow for another’s sorrow which makes the other’s sorrow one’s own. Whereas justice sometimes comes with a cost, and while that cost is owed to the other, mercy always comes at a price, albeit a price which does not need to be paid in the sense of being owed from one person to another. We always run the risk of joining the other in his suffering, or even of taking that suffering from him by taking it on ourselves, in which way we follow the example of our Lord.

It should be noted, on the other hand, that sometimes an act of mercy is also an act of justice. Thus, for example, all people have the right to life and to the basic necessities of food and water and clothing. However, to provide these things for another is an act of mercy on the part of the provider which does justice to the recipient. It might be added that what counts as mercy towards man is at the same time justice to God: “Make mercy your sacrifice…” Indeed, our very creation is but an act of mercy and an act of justice–we need not exist, so God is merciful to create us at all; but since He has made such things as intellect and will parts of our nature as human beings, there is an act of justice involved in creating each individual human person with these aspects [1].

Further, showing mercy to others is what in the end results in our obtaining mercy for ourselves: “Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs” (Matthew 5:7). Indeed, this is what we will be judged on, as Christ warns us in his parable of the sheeps and the goats (also called His Discourse on the Judgment of the Nations).

We see in this passages several explicit works of mercy which pertain primarily to our bodily needs, and (reading more deeply) some explicit works which pertain more to the needs of the soul or spirit.

Two Types of Mercy

Most of the Corporal Works of Mercy are a bit more obvious (see the parable of the sheep and the goats).

There is mercy towards the body, and mercy towards the soul. The former are more obviously merciful, and often relates to our survival in this life. The latter are less obvious, and less obviously important for our survival, but in the long run are the more important because they pertain to good living in this life and to our survival in the next life. There are seven acts of mercy which pertain to the body (The Corporal Works of Mercy) and seven which pertain to the soul (The Spiritual Works of Mercy).

It is worth quoting the Baltimore Catechism here, which tells that that “We must take more care of our soul than of our body, because in losing our soul we lose God and everlasting happiness…To save our souls we must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is, we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our heart” (BC2 Q8-9). Charity towards God includes charity towards our neighbors; this charity takes the form of the works of mercy.

There are seven each of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy:

The Corporal Works of Mercy:

To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy:

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

While Christ specifically names the corporal works of mercy (minus burial of the dead) during his Judgment of the Nations account, the spiritual works of mercy are generally more important still. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that:

“There are two ways of comparing these almsdeeds. First, simply; and in this respect, spiritual almsdeeds hold the first place, for three reasons. First, because the offering is more excellent, since it is a spiritual gift, which surpasses a corporal gift, according to Proverbs 4:2: ‘I will give you a good gift, forsake not My Law.’ Secondly, on account of the object succored, because the spirit is more excellent than the body, wherefore, even as a man in looking after himself, ought to look to his soul more than to his body, so ought he in looking after his neighbor, whom he ought to love as himself. Thirdly, as regards the acts themselves by which our neighbor is succored, because spiritual acts are more excellent than corporal acts, which are, in a fashion, servile.

Secondly, we may compare them with regard to some particular case, when some corporal alms excels some spiritual alms: for instance, a man in hunger is to be fed rather than instructed, and as the Philosopher observes (Topic. iii, 2), for a needy man ‘money is better than philosophy,’ although the latter is better simply” (Summa Theologica II-II.32.2).

As it turns out, the Spiritual Works of Mercy are metaphorically implied in the enumeration of the Corporal Works of Mercy.

In the next seven posts in this series, I will discuss each of the works briefly in turn. It turns out that each of the Corporal Works of Mercy pairs somewhat naturally (and metaphorically) with one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. I will therefore go in order of the Corporal Works of Mercy, and then discuss the paired Spiritual Work of Mercy, which means that I will have to re-order the Spiritual Works of Mercy slightly.

—Footnotes—

[1] For that matter, Christ’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection are collectively a work of mercy towards mankind, and at the same time are acts which satisfy the sometimes harsh demands of justice.

Love & always in need of His mercy,
Matthew

Mt 9:13 – His Body & Blood are soul medicine; not a weapon, nor a prize which can ever be earned.

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Let God worry about whom is too sick to receive His medicine.  It is His, not ours, fellow invalids and sufferers upon whom He has great mercy, too.  St Ignatius of Antioch (35-107 AD) often called the Eucharist the “Medicine of Immortality”, the food and drink by which one was rendered immortal.

Original article.

“Away from the Church, I rejected God for over ten years and was blissfully ignorant to the abuse I was inflicting on my soul through serious sin.

I thank God that those around me, whether they knew it or not, employed the wisdom of “gradualism” to invite me back to the Church.

In his latest blog post on the topic, Jimmy Akin defines gradualism:

“It is a principle used in Catholic moral and pastoral theology, according to which people should be encouraged to grow closer to God and his plan for our lives in a step-by-step manner rather than expecting to jump from an initial conversion to perfection in a single step.”

“Gradualism” or the “principle of gradualness” are not phrases that have been tossed around for a while. So, it is no wonder that people are skittish at the phrases’ mention and the language being employed at the Synod on the Family.

The fact that the bishops in the Synod on the Family employed this term over and over in their working document points to a growing consensus that the principle of gradualism needs to be applied more effectively in parish life.

This understandably concerns a lot of people.

After the chaos that followed Vatican II, things were just starting to stabilize. People are worried that if the principle of gradualness is interpreted or applied incorrectly then the faithful will be confused, and will think that moral law has somehow changed.

I, however, remain unconcerned for two reasons:

  1. The Church is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and she will never mislead us—most especially in matters of faith and morals.
  2. Second, when it comes to gradualism, I am “Exhibit A.”
    When I returned to the Church after ten years of being away, I did not walk through the doors and ask to go to confession.

Some people do this, but that was not my story.

When I first walked through the doors of a Catholic Church again, I was still an atheist, living with my boyfriend. One day, with little to do, I walked by a nearby church while Mass was going on inside.
I stayed. I have no idea why I stayed but I stayed.

And I went to Communion.

Perhaps I went out of a habit that was ingrained in me as a child. But when I think back to how I felt, I think the emptiness inside of me was screaming to be filled, and I felt intensely drawn to receive Jesus, like a deer thirsting for running water. Was it right? I have no idea. But at the time if someone had told me that I should not receive because I was in a possible state of mortal sin, I most likely would have walked right out of that church and never returned.

A year later, I was living for several months in Costa Rica. One day I felt a pull to attend Mass. I had no idea why. Before long, I started to go whenever Mass was held in the little rural town. The priest never questioned my fitness to receive Communion. He was always warm, joyful, and open with me, although I am sure he wondered what exactly was going on in my life.

I am thankful for that priest’s stance of respect for where I was at. If he had tried to lay down the law with me, I may have run and stayed away from the Church for another ten years. I was not ready to hear Church law from anyone. I hardly believed in Jesus, let alone the Catholic Church. I did not consider myself Catholic, and I certainly did not accept most of Church teaching on all the hot-button issues.
And yet, I felt drawn every time Mass was held in that little country church.

My story continues, and you can read more of it in my book that is coming out. But suffice it to say that I was attending Mass for an entire year before I went to confession. I don’t make excuses for myself. My soul was not in the proper state to be receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, but it took time for grace to work in me in order for me to realize this. Finally, in the same way I was drawn to Jesus in the Eucharist, one day I felt an overwhelming urge to go to confession.

The rest is history.

I am a product of the principle of gradualness that the bishops are speaking about at the Synod.

As a Church, if we don’t accept the concept of gradualism, we will not be able to successfully invite the countless baptized fallen-away Catholics to sit once again in the pews and receive the sacraments that their souls so desperately need.

Gradualism does not dismiss the law. Gradualism has great respect for the law, but an even greater respect for the people for whom the law was made. For that reason, gradualism believes that in order for a person to fully accept the law, we must give the Holy Spirit time to work in that person’s soul. This means that sometimes we will refrain from telling others about Church laws, and at other times we will refrain from enforcing them, not because the laws are not good or right, but because we want the person to accept what is good and right and that involves a timing we cannot control, that of the Holy Spirit.

This is not playing fast and loose with God’s law, this is mercy…and common sense.”

th

-by Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.

Love,
Matthew