Our recent considerations of the Sacrament of Penance have ended. Before moving on to another broad subject, I can mention a related notion, one that doesn’t get talked about very much these days.
A while back a lady friend of mind suggested “Talk about mercy.” Okay, I will. In fact, I’ll mention those very traditional actions which address the religious needs others: the spiritual works of mercy. Inspired by many passages in the Bible, when freely done by believers they are loving actions toward others that are easy to list but hard to do:
- To admonish the sinner
- To instruct the ignorant
- To counsel the doubtful
- To comfort the sorrowful
- To bear wrongs patiently
- To forgive all injuries
- To pray for the living and the dead
In my mind, the most difficult of these are “To admonish the sinner” and “To forgive all injuries.” (Oh, “to bear wrongs patiently” is also tough, but lots of times that’s out of our control!). The first involves great personal vulnerability, for to point out another’s sins runs the risk of being hypocritical if we don’t acknowledge our own failings at the same time! Since sin distances a person from both God and neighbor, the first spiritual work of mercy risks personal comfort by sharing by word or example what the sinner doesn’t want to hear (see 1 Co 4:14).
Many, many people have difficulty forgiving others, despite Jesus’ direct command to do this as much as possible (see Mt 6:15 and 18:21-22). Yet those who make the effort to “let go” past hurts find that merciful forgiveness can restore integrity to a wounded relationship and lessen the ongoing pain over that which was done. Healing doesn’t happen where resentment continues to hide.
This list of spiritual works of mercy can be a checklist for us in making sure our religion hasn’t gotten too self-centered. If you clip it out, where will you tape it so that you’ll see it each day?