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The Works of Mercy from Brazil to Italy

In Brazil, Works of Mercy are spoken of in catechesis, homilies and Holy Masses, especially during Lent

In popular jargon one often hears people say “I did an act of mercy for that person“, which has a meaning that goes beyond a simple gesture of politeness or kindness, because “doing mercy” implies putting love where it is needed, charity in action.

Charity is a giving of oneself to another, without asking or expecting anything in return. It does not have to be material, it can be done through the fourteen Works of Mercy. By practising them we move closer to Heaven and take a step towards holiness.

Trying to live the Works with fervour and love is a path to holiness

The Works are actions that are done on a human level, but which have supernatural effects. They are not one-off actions, but represent a way of living life, in which Jesus Christ is our inspiration. A specific action does not make us charitable people, but the way we act does. For example, we may not be in the financial position to make a material donation, but our attention, our listening, our respect, our care, and the way we see our brothers and sisters make us merciful people.

Before we speak, let us meditate on what St James teaches us about faith and works: “For just as the body without breath of life is dead, so faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). In this way, we understand the importance of works for our faith, both are connected and one feeds the other.

Charity and Mercy can only be understood from the perspective of Divine Love, but there are marked and decisive differences. Charity – which can only be exercised by the merciful – is more demanding than mercy, because charity is love and love is demanding (cf. 1 Jn 04:7, 21).

The Lord invites all his children, especially the little ones, to live the Works of Mercy and to use this great instrument to reach Heaven. They are simple attitudes: none of them require a great deed, but only care for others, a great love for one’s brothers and sisters.

The Works of Mercy make us more like Jesus, our model, who taught us how our attitude towards others should be. Following this teaching of the Lord, we exchange temporal goods for eternal ones, which are the ones that really count.

Practising the Works of Mercy is a way of being conformed to Christ. Through them, we can love as Jesus loved. They are charitable actions by which we help our neighbour in their material and non-material needs.

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The Works of Mercy are divided into two groups: corporal and spiritual

The corporal ones are mostly found in the Gospel description of the Last Judgement (Mt 25:31-45), where Jesus states that they will be the criterion for separating the sheep destined for the Kingdom of Heaven. Among these gestures, that of giving alms to the poor is one of the main testimonies of fraternal charity and also a practice of justice that pleases God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447).

The spiritual ones are taken from various texts in the Bible that recall attitudes and teachings of Christ himself such as forgiveness, fraternal correction, consolation, and endurance of suffering.

In the Gospel of St Luke, Jesus says: “Give and it will be given to you”. Therefore, with the Works of Mercy we do God’s will, we give something that is ours to others and the Lord promises that he will also give us what we need. Practising the works is a way to erase the pain that remains in the soul for our sins, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7), is one of the beatitudes.

Deepening Works of Corporal Mercy

1.2 – Feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty

These two complement each other and refer to the help to be given to the needy in terms of food and other goods, to those who lack the essentials to live.

Jesus, in the Gospel of St. Luke, recommends: “He who has two tunics, give to him who has none, and he who has food, let him do likewise” (Lk 3:11).

3 – Housing pilgrims

In ancient times, providing accommodation for travellers was a matter of life and death, due to the difficulties and risks of hiking and travelling. Even if this is no longer the case today, it can happen that we receive someone into our home, not just for friendship or family hospitality, but for some real need.

4 – Dressing the naked

This Work of Mercy aims to alleviate another basic need: clothing. It is often met by the distribution of clothes in parishes and other centres.

When we hand in our clothes, we can give what we have left or what we no longer need, but it is good to think that we can also donate what is still useful. The letter of St James invites us to be generous: ‘If a brother or sister is naked and needs daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and quenched,” but does not give them what is necessary for the body, what will it profit them? “(St 2:15-16).

5 – Visiting the sick

The real concern for the sick and elderly, apart from the care of the body, lies in providing them with some companionship. The best example in Sacred Scripture is the parable of the Good Samaritan who cared for the wounded man and, being unable to do so himself, entrusted the care he needed to another in return for payment (cf. Lk 10:30-37).

6 – Visiting prisoners

It consists of visiting prisoners and providing them not only with material help, but also spiritual assistance to help them improve as persons, to learn to do work that will be useful to them when the time imposed on them by justice is over.

This work, however, in the past, also took on the meaning of saving the innocent and the kidnapped. In ancient times, Christians in fact paid to free slaves or exchanged themselves for innocent captives.

7 – Burying the dead

Christ had no place to rest. It was a friend, Joseph of Arimathea, who gave him his tomb. But not alone, he had the courage to stand before Pilate and ask him for the body of Jesus. Nicodemus also participated and helped to bury him, (John 19: 38-42). Why is it important to give the human body a decent burial? Because the human body was the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19).

Deepening Works of Spiritual Mercy

1 – Counselling the doubtful

One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the gift of counsel. Therefore, those who put themselves in a position to give good advice must first be in tune with God, for it is not a matter of giving personal opinions, but of providing a guide, a compass to those who find themselves disoriented.

2 – Teaching the ignorant

It consists in teaching the ignorant in any subject: even religious subjects. This teaching can be done through writing or speech, by any means of communication. As the book of Daniel says, “those who teach the people righteousness will shine like the stars for ever and ever” (Dan 12:3b).

3 – Admonish sinners

This Work of Mercy can also be translated as “correct the sinner”. Fraternal correction is explained by Jesus himself in the Gospel of St Matthew: “If your brother sins, speak to him alone to correct him. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 19: 15-17). We must correct our neighbours with meekness and humility. Sometimes it will be difficult to do so, but in those moments we can remember what the Apostle James says at the end of his Epistle: “Whoever converts a sinner from his error will save his soul from death and obtain the forgiveness of many sins. “(St 5:20).

4 – Consoling the afflicted

It will happen that this work will go hand in hand with giving some good advice, which will help to overcome these situations of pain or sadness. To accompany our brothers and sisters at all times, but especially in the most difficult ones, is to put into practice Jesus’ compassionate behaviour towards the pain of others. An example comes from the gospel of St Luke. It is about the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain: “When they were near the gate of the city, they saw that a dead man, the only son of his mother, who was a widow, was being carried to the burial; and with her came many people from the city. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep. As he approached, he touched the coffin and those who were carrying it stopped. Then he said: “Young man, I say to you: get up!”. The dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him to his mother” (Lk 7:12-16).

5 – Forgiving offences

In the Lord’s Prayer we say: “Forgive us our trespasses as we also forgive those who trespass against us,” and the Lord himself makes it clear: “If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours” (Mt 6:14-16). Forgiving offences, overcoming revenge and resentment means treating those who have offended us with kindness. The best example of forgiveness in the Old Testament is that of

Joseph, who forgave his brothers for trying to kill him and then selling him. “Do not grieve or be angry with yourselves because you have sold me to this country; for it is to preserve life that God has sent me here before you” (Gen 45:5). And the greatest forgiveness in the New Testament is that of Christ on the Cross, who teaches us that we must forgive everything and always: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

6 – Bear harassing people patiently

Bear with patience the weaknesses of your neighbour. Patience in the face of the faults of others is a virtue and a true Work of Mercy. There is, however, one very useful piece of advice I would give: when bearing these faults does more harm than good, with much charity and gentleness, give a warning.

7 – Praying to God for the living and the dead

St Paul recommends praying for everyone indiscriminately, even for rulers and authorities, because “he wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (cf. 1 Tim 2:2-3).

The dead who are in purgatory depend on our prayers. It is a good work to pray for them, that they may be freed from their sins (cf. 2 Mac 12:46).

Spazio Spadoni and his commitment to the Works of Mercy

It was with great surprise that I learned that there is an organisation working to spread awareness of the Works of Mercy around the world. I am referring to Spazio Spadoni, which in a few days will start a meeting aimed precisely at structuring tools for this purpose. There will be participants from many corners of the Planet precisely to testify to the international, not just local, imprint of this space, which is fundamentally an opportunity to confront each other in faith and fraternal spirit.

Mercy in today’s world

Charity – also and always under the prism of mercy – today needs to challenge and fight against all the cruelties imposed by the current holders of state and economic power who, by irony or fate, are precisely those who will need divine mercy the most. The poor, the vulnerable and the wretched do not need it – they already have it – and it is precisely those (where the Word is made flesh – Jn 1:14) who may or may not give mercy to those who today impose various and ruthless cruelties. It is not a poor individual, an isolated case who needs alms, but an expressive population density that constitutes the majority of the population of this planet. This ‘brotherhood’ needs someone to protest with it for public policies that induce economic and social development, environmental protection mechanisms, full attention to health, education and social housing. Understanding Charity necessarily entails understanding who my brother is to be loved. Logically, this response must be true (Benedict XVI) and cannot be hypocritical (Pope Francis).

To live and bring God’s mercy into the world is our mission, to consume ourselves to build lives and save souls!

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