The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy

April 5, 2017

Let us examine the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, dress the naked, house the pilgrims, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead.... it seems to me that there is no lack of circumstances or opportunities all around us. What should we do for the homeless man camped in front of our door, for the poor man who has nothing to eat, for the neighboring family who cannot make it to the end of the month due to the recession, because the husband lost his job? How should we behave with the immigrants who have survived the crossing and who land on our shores? What should we do with the elderly who are alone, abandoned, and who have no one?

We have received freely, we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God. That is where we touch the Lord. Jesus himself told us, explaining the protocol for which we will all be judged: "Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did it for me" (Matthew 25:40). 

Pope Francis, The Name of God Is Mercy, Oonagh Stransky, Translator. New York: Random House. 2016. pp. 98-99.

 

I walked into the bookstore, and as is my tendency, I was struck by the beautiful aesthetic of this little book by Pope Francis (I own way too many small, beautifully-designed books on spiritualities of various kinds). Its contents are in two parts: It begins with an interview of the Pope by Vatican reporter Andrea Tornielli on the topic of mercy. The interview came on the occasion of the Pope's declaration of the liturgical year beginning with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 2015 as an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The second part of the book is the papal bull announcing that declaration and explaining what it means and how it is to be carried out. 

 

When I bought the book, I thought I might mine something to use in the sections on confession that are part of the classes I teach on spiritual practices for Fuller Theological Seminary. I was a bit disappointed in this regard--although I did learn something about the perspective of the one hearing confession according to the Roman Catholic sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. 

 

Being a Christian of Protestant origin, it might be surprising to find me reading books by Popes. I have been a closet pope-reader since I began studying church history in seminary in the nineties--and my interest increased just after the death of John-Paul II, when my views were transformed by his teaching that to be pro-life is to embrace pro-life attitudes not only in regard to abortion, but also in relation to poverty, immigration, military policy, war, the death penalty, the environment, and more. Pope Francis earned my respect right away by demonstrating that he knows what it means to be the vicar of Christ on earth. He vicariously represented Jesus by doing what Jesus would do--instead of doing what popes and worldly rulers were expected to do. Stories leaked early on that he would sneak out of his Vatican quarters at night to spend time among those on the streets, and he refused the honorary trappings of his office. Now that I know that he lives this way, I am interested in what he has to say, too. 

 

The Name of God Is Mercy is a fast read, especially the interview section, so pay close attention to find the significant nuggets. 

 

The quote at the head of this post resonates with the highlights I encountered from the life of now-Saint Teresa of Calcutta as part of my doctoral work at George Fox Seminary. She spoke of looking down into the faces of the children she served on the streets of that city, and seeing the eyes of Jesus looking back up at her. 

 

Loving service to "the least of these" is loving service to Jesus Christ himself, and to serve him is to worship him--and to worship the God who sent him. I end by repeating four key sentences from the quote that inspired the post:

 

We have received freely , we give freely. We are called to serve Christ the Crucified through every marginalized person. We touch the flesh of Christ in he who is outcast, hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned, ill, unemployed, persecuted, in search of refuge. That is where we find our God. That is where we touch the Lord.

 

Go forth and serve the Lord.

 

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