Friday, March 23, 2012

40 Things #27: The Seven Spiritual Works of Mercy

See Jen for more Quick Takes!

***This post is part of my 40 Things I Love About Catholicism series.  Click here to read more!*** 

I'm once again combining quick takes with my Lenten series featuring Catholic beliefs, traditions, and moral teachings.  This week, I'll be looking at the seven spiritual works of mercy.  The Bright Maidens have been doing a series of posts on the spiritual works of mercy, so I'll reference a few of those for the first three, and then give some of my thoughts on the final four.

1. Instruct the ignorant: Julie has a thoughtful post on this spiritual work of mercy and the price of our ignorance:
I truly [think] many people intentionally stay ignorant of God - learn things about him, sure, and learn about things that surround him. But not him. After all, it is hard to look at God on the cross and really know that he knows our hearts. He can touch and change our lives, if we only get to know him. Our God is the God of all; our path towards God will never be repeated for another.
Of course, the primary instruction of the ignorant I'll be doing in my own life is teaching my own daughter (and any future children) about God and our faith.  I suppose that even some of these blog posts may be instructing the ignorant -- I know I've moved beyond my own ignorance in particular areas through the writing of many of them.

2. Counsel the doubtful: Trista tells a short but powerful story about a time when her brother expressed some doubts about his faith.  She used the advice her boyfriend has given her to counsel her brother:
I will confess that I am a doubter.  Not that I doubt that God exists or in the wisdom of the Catholic Church guided by the Holy Spirit, but I wonder if God has a plan for me and if perhaps he forgot to grant me some gifts and talents.  I often jump off the deep end into despair and long crying sessions.  

Then my dear boyfriend, whose faith is remarkable, will gently yet firmly remind me to turn to Jesus.  He loves to reveal himself.  He loves to reassure us, as he did with Thomas, his Apostle. 
3. Admonish the sinner: Elizabeth writes about how, as adults, we don't feel like we should be admonished like children are anymore.  She points out that this gentle correction is actually done in love:
Often the only people who feel comfortable admonishing us also Love us -- which, as any Peter Pan can tell you, makes it all the more annoying and hard to hear. However, in Loving us, they also wish us to be better. That's a valiant truth about relationships, adult or otherwise.

When it comes to admonishing those who don't know that well or stepping out of our comfort zone to admonish others on more serious sins, we listen to the Holy Spirit. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if your actions are "Loving," one way or another.
4. Comfort the sorrowful: I find this is something that I very much want to do, and theoretically find easier than some of the other spiritual works of mercy (like, for example, admonishing the sinner), yet there are occasions when I'm honestly not sure how to comfort the sorrowful.  For example, a friend I've met through Elise's various baby activities lost her mother a couple months ago.  We get along well and our girls have played together a fair number of times, but we're not close friends.  I expressed my sympathy via email, in person, and through a card, and offered to help her in any way I could, but I still felt sad that I couldn't do more.  I guess I always picture "comforting" as offering a shoulder to cry on, listening to someone pour out her heart, giving hugs...when in reality, that kind of consolation is something I'll probably only give to family members and very close friends who are comfortable with it. 

5. Bear wrongs patiently: For years, I'm pretty certain I never even bothered trying to do this.  You cross me?  You're a [insert expletive of choice]!  I'm consummately non-confrontational, so I might be nice to your face, but I'll seethe over your idiocy 'til the end of my days.

Whew.  I'm still working on that, but thank God, I've gotten a lot better.

6. Forgive all injuries: We all know how hard this is, and we all know that God expects nothing less: "forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us."  When I was doing a Women of Grace Bible study a few years ago, I remember Johnette Benkovic saying that if we cannot forgive, we should pray that we can; if we don't even have the desire to forgive, we should pray for the desire to forgive.  It can take a long time.  I think it's good to remember that the act of forgiving someone does not mean we were not wronged, or that we can't feel hurt.

7. Pray for the living and the dead: I have a list of people I pray for every day; I used to recite it from memory, but it grew so long that I had to write it down.  (I'm really glad I did because I was starting to feel ridiculous, racking my brain every morning!)  We pray for the dead because we want them to be in Heaven with God: the prayers can't hurt if they're already there, and if they're in Purgatory, they can help!


  1. This is such a great idea, 40 things you love for the 40 days of Lent! I admit that I have a hard time *consciously* doing the spiritual works of mercy. I'm definitely with you on #5. Working on it.

    1. Thanks, Kayla! I have a hard time consciously doing them, too! Really contemplating what each one entails makes me realize how far I have to go.

  2. I'm loving this series. You are helping me fill in lots of gaps that '80's CCD left behind. I definitely need to work on these!

    1. Thanks, Jeanne! Writing these has been filling in a lot of my religious education gaps, too!