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Living the Works of Mercy
By Susan Hines-Brigger

Q U I C K S C A N

A Shift in Perspective
Faith in Action
The Works of Mercy




Whenever I get stuck for an idea for this column, I know that I can always count on my three kids to provide one. And most of the time it comes at the least opportune moments, as it did for this month.

This month’s column came to life one evening shortly after I had gotten home from work. As usual, I was attempting to get the daily rundown of the kids’ activities, read the mail, check the messages and get dinner started. That’s when it all came apart.

“Mom, Riley hit me,” reported Alex.

“Mom, I want pink milk,” demanded Riley.

“Mom, I feel like I’m going to throw up,” cautioned Maddie.

Another typical night in the Brigger house, I thought.

I quickly helped foster a reconciliation between Alex and Riley, filled a sippy cup with pink milk, and comforted Maddie and laid her down on the couch with a bucket nearby.

A far cry from what I—or anyone else, I imagine—would call “holy.” But, as I realized later, in many ways it was.

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A Shift in Perspective

That evening, after the kids were all tucked in bed, I sat down at my computer wracking my brain for a topic. And then it hit me. Over the course of the evening I had unknowingly performed a number of the works of mercy that I had grown up hearing about, but which I saw as goals too lofty and, quite frankly, too holy for me to achieve.

But it was just a matter of a shift in perspective. For too long, when I read “feed the hungry,” I envisioned signing up and working at the local soup kitchen. But I never stopped to realize that feeding healthy meals to my own family counted, too.

Or that I was “admonishing the sinner” when I corrected one of my kids for doing something wrong or hurtful to someone else, “visiting the sick” when I took them to visit their great-grandma at the nursing home and “burying the dead” when Maddie’s rabbits died and we laid them to rest on our backyard hill. And the list goes on.

Here I was living the works of mercy in my everyday life, and I didn’t even realize it.

The works of mercy are divided into two categories: corporal and spiritual. The corporal works of mercy are those that benefit the physical body. Corporal comes from the Latin word corpus for “body.” The spiritual works of mercy are those that benefit the soul.

References to these works can be found throughout the Bible, including Matthew 25.

A lot of times I think we fail to see that our daily lives provide golden opportunities to live out our faith in very real ways. And while we may see them as mundane, they actually hold great potential for holiness. Here are some ways to help shift your perspective:

Stop and reflect. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to think about ways in which you lived out the works of mercy that day. Did you comfort someone who wasn’t feeling well? Did you help your child read a book or teach one of your children something new?

Make a list. Gather together and come up with ideas for how your family and its individual members can live out the works of mercy both within and outside your family. After talking about ways that you can embody these works, make a list of concrete ways to display the works of mercy. Then come up with a plan to implement some of those actions.

“Put one foot in front of the other.” These lyrics from a song in Santa Claus Is Coming to Town—one of my favorite Christmas shows—say a lot. Trying to achieve holiness can seem like an overwhelming task, but if we just take it one step at a time, it’s a lot easier. Think small. “Clothe the naked” can be as simple as mending your child’s favorite pajamas in order to bring that child comfort.

Celebrate your holiness. Just because we haven’t been canonized doesn’t mean we’re not doing holy work here on earth. St. Francis may have confronted the wolf of Gubbio, but I’ve taken on my two-year-old when she hasn’t had a nap. That should count for something.

 

Corporal Works

• Feed the hungry.
• Give drink to the thirsty.
• Clothe the naked.
• Shelter the homeless.
• Visit the sick.
• Visit those in prison.
• Bury the dead.

Spiritual Works

• Instruct the ignorant.
• Counsel the doubtful.
• Admonish the sinner.
• Comfort the sorrowful.
• Forgive injuries.
• Bear wrongs patiently.
• Pray for the living and the dead.

 

Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at “Faith-filled Family,” 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to Family@franciscanmedia.org.


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