Last week, I wrote about how our politicians take care of the physical needs of their voters by using their power to confiscate the earnings of their hard-working subjects, so they can buy the votes of the people who have become dependent on them.
While the politicians may take care of the physical needs of their voters, they are incapable of taking care of their spiritual needs. Why? Because the only way the politicians would ever be able to assist with the spiritual needs of their voters would be through the performance of the spiritual works of mercy. As I explained last week, it’s impossible for a person to perform a spiritual work of mercy if that person does not believe in God and abide by His laws.
There are seven spiritual works of mercy: to instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish the sinner, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the sorrowful, and pray for the living and the dead.
The spiritual works of mercy were designed to promote and advance the two great commandments of Jesus, which are, to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and body, and to love your neighbor as yourself.
The best way to understand and embrace the spiritual works of mercy is to look at examples of how Jesus used them to advance His two great commandments.
INSTRUCT THE IGNORANT – We all know that after Jesus rose from the dead, He joined two of His disciples while they were walking to Emmaus. The disciples did not recognize who Jesus was and while they were walking, they explained to Jesus everything that had happened concerning His suffering, death, and resurrection. When they finished explaining everything to our Lord, He said,
Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. Luke 24:25-27
After interpreting the scriptures for the disciples, they invited our Lord to sit down and eat with them. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. That’s when their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him. At that point, our Lord vanished from their sight. They then looked at each other and said,
Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32
How often do you imitate our Lord by taking the time to patiently instruct and enlighten people who are ignorant about God and His Kingdom?
COUNSEL THE DOUBTFUL – After our Jesus rose from the dead, he met with His apostles on a mountain in Galilee. Here’s what happened on that mountain:
When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:17-20
It’s hard to believe that some of our Lord’s apostles doubted Him after they saw that He had risen from the dead. But don’t we all doubt God sometimes? When we worry or have anxiety about a situation, we are doubting that God has worked everything out for us already and that all we need to do is trust in Him.
When is the last time you helped to restore someone’s trust in God, after they had doubts about His existence or about the laws of His Church?
ADMONISH THE SINNER – Another incident that we’re all familiar with is when the Scribes and Pharisees brought a woman to Jesus and told Him that the woman had committed adultery. They reminded Jesus that Moses had commanded the stoning of a woman who had sinned in this way. They wanted to trap Jesus, so they would have a charge that they could bring against Him at a later time. Here’s how our Lord responded:
Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” John 8:6-11
This is an amazing story of how our Lord was able to put arrogant sinners in their place, while gently admonishing the woman who had engaged in sinful behavior.
When is the last time you put an arrogant sinner in their place or gently admonished someone for their sinful behavior?
FORGIVE OFFENSES WILLINGLY – They beat and tortured Jesus until his body was covered with blood. Then they nailed Him to a cross, so they could humiliate Him and teach his family, friends, and followers a lesson about what would happen to them if they didn’t do what their government demanded of them. Of course, their final goal was to kill our Lord, so He would quickly be forgotten by everyone. Here’s how Jesus reacted to His brutal killers:
When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. Luke 23:33-34
When was the last time you forgave someone for something that would be, for most people, unforgivable?
BEAR WRONGS PATIENTLY – One of the most egregious betrayals in all of history occurred when our Lord’s right-hand man Peter denied, on three different occasions, that he knew Jesus. Although Jesus had told Peter that he would deny Jesus, Peter assured our Lord that he would NEVER do that! Here’s what happened when Peter realized that he had denied our Lord:
At that moment, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. The Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:60-62
After Jesus rose from the dead and had a chance to talk to Peter, He didn’t bother to scold Peter or make him feel guilty about what he had done. Our Lord bore the wrongful acts of Peter patiently and then lovingly forgave him.
How often do you bear wrongs that are committed against you patiently, without scolding and making the person who committed the wrongs feel guilty?
COMFORT THE SORROWFUL – Are you ever sorrowful — sad, unhappy, depressed, discouraged, or anxious? Here’s what our Lord said, so we would be comforted when we are sorrowful:
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30
Like Jesus, we should invite people that we know who are sorrowful to come to us with their sorrow, so we can ease their heavy burdens.
How often do you make a conscious effort to reach out and help family members, friends, or other people that you know who may be lonely or sorrowful?
PRAY FOR THE LIVING – Jesus took the time to pray for others even though they did not ask for His prayers.
Then little children were being brought to him in order that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples spoke sternly to those who brought them; but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” And he laid his hands on them and went on his way. Matthew 19:13-15
How often to do you pray for others, even though they didn’t ask you to pray for them?
PRAY FOR THE DEAD
Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.” John 11:38-44
While we all hope that our loved ones who died have made it into Heaven, there is no way for us to know what the true state of their souls was at the time of their death. They may still be suffering in purgatory. That’s why we should always remember to pray for their souls. If our prayers help to shorten their stay in purgatory, when they get into Heaven, they will have the ability to see what our needs are. Then they will return the favor by praying that we will join them in Heaven as soon as we die.
How often do you pray for the souls of your deceased family members, relatives, and friends?