n 2016 we Catholics observed a Year of Mercy, which reminded us to approach the Lord Jesus to receive His mercy and urged us to show mercy to our neighbors, especially by incorporating the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy into our lives. With Divine Mercy Sunday upon us (you can read about it in Father Landry’s column), let us see how we can live out the Works of Mercy now.
Various authors have provided some answers. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) recently published online “The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which can be found at https://catholiccurrent.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Corporal-and-Spiritual-Works-of-Mercy.pdf. A more homespun source can be found by Catholic convert Desiree Hausam, in her blog entry https://www.greencatholicburrow.com/coronavirus-outbreak-works-of-mercy/.
Father Raymond deSouza addressed this theme in an April 8 column in the National Catholic Register, “Fifth Word From the Cross: ‘I Thirst’ — The Corporal Works of Mercy” and Archbishop Allan Vigneron of Detroit offered “Ten guideposts for Christians in the time of the Coronavirus pandemic” in Detroit Catholic on March 18.
For the first Spiritual Work of Mercy, Counseling the Doubtful, the USCCB suggests that we “reassure and support those who may be especially anxious during this time.” We must ask God for wisdom so as to listen to them and then try to help them see how Christ is present now. Archbishop Vigneron wrote, “This is a providential time for us to witness to our sure confidence in Jesus as Lord of history, to manifest to the world that we face this challenge with unshakeable trust that the Lord will sustain us.”
Following from that work of mercy is the next one, Instructing the Ignorant. The USCCB offers that we could “learn and/or teach someone else how to make a Spiritual Communion,” and that we could “Take this time to recommit to [our] own study and formation and, for those home with children, take advantage of this time to reflect on the faith as a family.”
The next work is Admonishing the Sinner. This requires patience for it to be effective and not just nagging. “Being confined in close quarters for long periods of time with families or housemates can test us in more ways than one, so be supportive in helping others find their way and correct their mistakes,” the bishops wrote. They added, “Recognize the reality of Spiritual warfare in daily interactions and strive to cultivate the corresponding virtues needed to resist your personal temptations.” In other words, the sinner to be admonished often is ourselves.
A related work is Forgiving Injuries. “For families, this time may maximize opportunities to exercise forgiveness, so take this time to model the importance of forgiveness both for this life and the next,” wrote the bishops. They also suggested that we individually make a daily examination of conscience and pray together the Divine Mercy Chaplet.
Along that line is another Spiritual work — that of Bearing Wrongs Patiently. To do this, the USCCB suggests that we “practice developing and strengthening the virtues of temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice [so that] when [we are] frustrated with someone, [we] step away from the situation, take a few deep breaths, and pray the Our Father, asking God for patience.”
The last two Spiritual Works are related to the saddest part of this crisis — the many deaths. One is Comforting the Sorrowful. Given “social distancing,” we cannot be present at the burial of the loved ones of our friends and relatives — but we can use the telephone to call them. These are not the easiest calls to make, so it is a good idea to prepare for the call with prayer, asking God to help us truly be compassionate (and asking God to help us to remember to visit these people when that is permissible in the future).
The final Spiritual Work is Praying for the Living and the Dead. Since everyone is going through this crisis, we have a lot of people for whom to pray. For example, we could think of particular individuals as we pray each Hail Mary of the Rosary or we could offer a certain portion of time in meditation or reading the Bible for a particular soul. This could also be how we carry out the Corporal Work of Burying the Dead during this time of restrictions.
The Corporal Works of Mercy are a challenge right now. Father deSouza wrote, “One measure of the diabolical character of this Coronavirus is that exactly when the Corporal Works of Mercy are most necessary — to Visit the Sick, to Bury the Dead — we are unable to do so. The first step in the Corporal Works of Mercy is to Meet the Suffering and the Afflicted, which is difficult, even impossible, to do in these days. We might form a resolution to be more zealous in the Corporal Works of Mercy when the pandemic passes, but what about now?”
In terms of Feeding the Hungry, you can read in this edition of The Anchor about continuing efforts to meet this increasing need. We can make donations towards those efforts. Desiree Hausam also suggested, “Don’t buy more than you need. Supplies are limited, and you don’t need more than two-three weeks of supplies. Taking more overburdens the system and you risk your neighbors’ ability to provide for his family.” What she wrote echoes what our governor said — that if we hoard food, in a way we are stealing it from our neighbors.
Giving drink to the Thirsty is not just an extension of Feeding the Hungry. The Catholic Church leads the charge for accessibility to clean water worldwide. Those places without it are even more vulnerable to COVID-19. We can remember to help our Church’s work in those lands to bring this essential resource to all people.
Sheltering the Homeless takes on added urgency in this emergency. Catholic Social Services (CSS) in our diocese is doing all it can to help those in this most vulnerable population. You can make donations to CSS online at https://www.cssdioc.org/monetary-giftsonline-donation/ or by mailing a check to Catholic Social Services, 1600 Bay Street, P.O. Box M/So. Station, Fall River, Mass. 02724. This would also be part of another Corporal Work of Mercy — Giving Alms to the Poor.
We cannot visit the sick right now, “love of neighbor demands we do not spread this thing,” Hausam wrote, but we can email, text or call them if they are at home. If they are in the hospital, our prayers are our most effective form of communication. Visiting prisoners is also not possible at this time. Hausam observed, “There are no clear answers here, but some folks have called for the most vulnerable prisoners to be sent home. Consider calling your local government representatives to advocate for mercy.” Again, prayers and sacrifices offered for the prisoners and for those who staff the prisons are always more effective than doing nothing.
As Father Landry wrote in his column about God, “His mercy endures forever.” May our actions be an extension of His mercy.