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What we should know about the Spiritual Works of Mercy II

spiritual works of mercy

Third and Fourth: Counsel the Doubtful and Comfort the Sorrowful

What a tremendous gift it is from The Divine Mercy when you find someone who really listens to you, who really lets you pour out your heart and share your troubles and miseries, and who then really takes your whole situation in prayer to the Lord before presuming to dole out advice to you. Plenty of people are quick to give out half-baked, ill-considered advice! But how many people do you know who really listen to you and to the Holy Spirit before they speak?

You can become that person for others if you learn to really listen to the Holy Spirit in your own life first with the help of a spiritual director. Read the New Testament every day and listen to the Lord speaking to you there. Find a good spiritual director and listen to the Lord speaking to you through his or her wise counsel. Then, having learned to listen, you will be ready and able to listen deeply to others.

We can find a good example of this in the life of St Faustina. In her religious community, she was apparently such a good listener she earned the nickname “the dump” from her fellow sisters because they were always dumping their problems on her (see her Diary, 871). It’s not hard to discover from her Diary where she learned this art of listening. She learned it from listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer and from the same Spirit speaking to her through the guidance of her spiritual directors.

Fifth: Be Patient With Those in Error

It is an act of merciful love to share the faith with those who need it and to pray for them. On the other hand, we must be patient with God’s work in other people’s lives. We must never harass, pressure, or manipulate anyone. Our job is but to sow the seeds of faith in the hearts and minds of those who are in grievous error. But change has to come in God’s own time. Even if we never see for ourselves the fruit of our efforts, God will surely do His part to water with the grace of conversion the seeds we have planted, when and if people are ready to receive that gift. Until then, we are just to be patient with those in error, to share the truth with them as best we can (acknowledging all the while our own limited grasp of God’s revealed truth and limited capacity to adequately express that truth to others), and to pray for them, trusting in God’s mercy and patience with us all.

Sixth: Forgive Offenses

”’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). If there is any vengeance that needs to be “dished out,” in this life or the next, the only One qualified to do it is the Lord, for He alone knows the secrets of all hearts. Thus, we must always let go of any desire in our hearts for vengeance, and in that sense at least, to forgive our enemies. That means stopping ourselves from exacting “petty vengeance” as well, which includes the use of detraction or slander or gossip to get back at people for the evil they may have done to us.

In short, we are not to curse the darkness, but to pray for those in darkness. (See Mt 5:44.) Whatever temporal harm they may have done to us, those who are evil are in danger of the greatest harm of all: everlasting loss and condemnation. What they have caused us to suffer pales in comparison to what they will suffer eternally if they do not repent.

However, forgiveness is probably the most misunderstood of all the works of mercy. It does NOT mean blindly letting oneself be victimized. You have a duty to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm, for you are all children of God whom He made in His own image and for whom He gave His life on the Cross. That’s how valuable and precious you are in the eyes of our merciful Savior!

Forgiving our enemies, therefore, is entirely compatible with reasonable acts of self-protection. For example, forgiveness is entirely compatible with having criminals arrested and placed behind bars where they cannot do further harm to the innocent. (See Catechism, 2263-2267.)

Clearly, the duty to forgive your enemies is compatible with protecting yourself and your loved ones from harm and demanding high standards of conduct from those close to you, including your own close family members. To prevent and block the spread of evil in these ways is actually a work of mercy, not only toward yourself and your loved ones, but even toward the perpetrators of evil. The perpetrators, after all, often have little chance of ever coming to repentance without the help of the “reality therapy” meted out by those charged with the social responsibility of defending the innocent. In other words, to love and forgive your enemies is not necessarily to let them trample all over you. When there is no effective way to defend oneself or others from harm, then that may be the time and the place meekly to carry the cross of persecution. But that time and place is certainly not every time and every place!

Seventh: Pray for the Living and the Dead

Every day we are to bring our needs, the needs of our loved ones, and the needs of the whole world into the merciful Heart of Jesus. Saint Faustina herself often did this, bringing them into Christ’s “most compassionate Heart” (see Diary, 1209-1229).

Our works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, will always appear inadequate compared to the needs of the world around us. But our Lord does not ask us to meet every need. We are only asked to do what we can and leave the rest to Him as He works out His loving plan for each human soul. Remember the “five loaves and two fish principle.” St Andrew said to Jesus, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what are they among so many?” (Jn 6:9). That meager supply, when offered in faith to Jesus, was found to be enough to feed multitudes. So will our seemingly meager efforts to practise the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, guided by His Spirit and offered up to Jesus. He can work miracles with such little offerings. Some of those miracles we will never even see with our own eyes until we meet Him face-to-face in heaven. It is then when He will give us the grace to see what He sees; it is then when He will turn His loving gaze upon us and we will hear those blessed words from His own lips: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Mt 25:23)

Discussion Questions

  1. Why is “admonishing sinners” so difficult today? Have you ever been effectively “admonished” by someone else?
  2. What new way could you find to “instruct the uninformed” in the truth of the Catholic faith?
  3. What new way could you find to “forgive offenses,” praying for those who mistreat you rather than “cursing the darkness?” –
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