Teaching Our Faith — More than a penance

Deacon Lucio Caruso
Deacon Lucio Caruso

This series of teaching editorials will cover topics related to mercy as we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy from December of 2015 to November of 2016.

Can you name the 14 works of mercy? If so, you are well on your way to being a Catholic trivia winner for sure! The spiritual works are: Instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, comfort the sorrowful, bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead. The corporal works are: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, visit the sick and bury the dead.

While it is very fitting to reflect on these works during this Lenten season, we must be careful not to think of them as acts of penance, but as ways we both individually and as church imitate and become the living Christ to our world. And is this not the very purpose of Lent — preparation for initiation into Christ at Easter by those who are catechumens and renewal of that initiation into Christ by we who are already baptized?

Pope Francis, in speaking about the purpose of this Jubilee Year of Mercy, has called us to be the visible face of God’s mercy in the world, just as Christ was in his words and deeds. This is where the works of mercy in our Christian tradition help. They instruct us in very practical ways to develop a lifestyle whereby the Gospel comes to life. In so doing, they become the credible signs of Christ’s presence among us and in the world.

No matter how loudly we might profess the creed or with what fine-tuned sophistication we are able to articulate doctrine and dogma, the credibility and effectiveness of our evangelization and witness come down to how well we have brought comfort and mercy to the poor and lonely, tended the sick and welcomed the rejected and discounted.

Has this not been the appeal of Blessed Mother Teresa or Pope Francis? Has it not been these very works they have embodied which has gotten the world’s attention and caused some to even take another look at the church?

Throughout our long history, it has been through these works of mercy that we have put our best foot forward: building thousands of hospitals, orphanages and schools; providing relief and care to victims of disaster, the homeless, sick, grieving, the imprisoned and refugees through agencies such as Catholic Relief Services, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Catholic Charities and countless parish-spun ministries of outreach.

We have also — through our many advocacy efforts at the local, national and global levels — spoken up for the voiceless and vulnerable, making their needs known to those in positions of leadership and power.

But let us not forget that practicing these spiritual and corporal works of mercy begins and is lived every day in our families. There are countless ordinary ways and opportunities we brings these works of mercy to life in our vocation as spouse, parent, child or sibling.

Responding to a newborn’s hunger and diaper change in the middle of the night, caring for a sick child, comforting a sibling going through a job loss or divorce, instructing and at times admonishing our teenagers for their good and safety, making the best possible arrangements for an aging and ailing parent, forgiving and letting go of hurts in our family relationships, bearing patiently a spouse with Alzheimer’s and praying daily for our family members both living and deceased are just some examples.

You might say that it is in family life where the rubber meets the road in our Christian living. It is in the family that we get the most practice for living these works in the wider world.

I mentioned earlier that these works of mercy are not a Lenten penance. It is for this reason that we as the Archdiocese of Louisville, in our observance of this great Jubilee Year of Mercy, will be giving special attention to them after Easter. For it is in these actions that we give the best proof to our proclamation that Christ is indeed risen!

And so we will, during the Easter season and culminating in a planned Archdiocesan Life Conference Oct. 22, be involved individually and as parishes in an effort to more intentionally practice these works. Resources with practical suggestions will be made available to all of us. We will also be tracking how all our parishes are living out these actions, not so much to earn credit and recognition, but as a way to share ideas and best practices by which we can inspire one another and through which we, as one archdiocesan church family, can give a powerful witness to the living and risen Christ here in central Kentucky. Watch for more specific information about this shortly after Easter.

So, whether we can name all 14 works of mercy off the top of our heads or not, let us prepare to live a number of them with fervor and joy!

Deacon Lucio Caruso
Church of the Epiphany
Director of Mission Integration, Mission Advancement,
Catholic Charities of Louisville

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