“God’s mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones (cf. Ez 37:1-14). … Let us be renewed by God’s mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.”
-Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message, March 31, 2013
That was the sound at our front door last night as I was in my office reading about the Corporal Works of Mercy and my wife was at our dining room table working on details for the kids’ school’s annual fundraiser dinner.
It was an unexpected visit from a surprising visitor that ended up taking the idea of “Mercy” full-circle in my own reflection.
Sunday, while driving Joseph Michael (our 3rd son) home from a birthday party, he asked a simple question about the church…
“Dad, how much money does the church need to run?”
I answered that it depends – different parishes or different dioceses have different ministries, different projects, different numbers of people working for them, different bills for electricity and what not.
“No, but don’t we give our money to the church, and then the church gives the money to the poor?”
If only it were as simple in the real world as it is in the mind of the 6-year-old.
I explained more of the nuances of the expenses of running a church. He simply answered, “Well, I think that the church should just spend as little as it needs so that it has more to give to the poor.”
In his mind, the discussion was over and his solution was the simple one we’ve been looking for all along. A child shall lead them…
I can’t stop thinking about that conversation, and it led me to my office last night, reading a bit more about the Corporal Works of Mercy. They are:
1) Feed the hungry
2) Give drink to the thirsty
3) Clothe the naked
4) Harbor the harborless
5) Visit the sick
6) Ransom the captive
7) Bury the dead
So, there I sat, reflecting for the evening in my office on the first three in particular when the knock came at our door.
Suzanne yelled down, “Michael! There’s someone knocking on our front door!”
As I came upstairs, she answered the door. Running through my mind were all of the possibilities, from a family member stopping by to a nefarious hoodlum seeking to do evil.
A small, worried woman stood across the threshold, close to tears. She lives a few doors down, she explained (we knew this). Her 24-year-old daughter had just gotten into her first run-in with the law – a DUI – and was in the city jail.
She had pulled together all of the cash that she could at the late hour that it was, and wasn’t sure where else to go to get cash so late at night.
She only needed 54 more dollars to be able to help bail her daughter out of jail for the night.
Suzanne closed the door and turned to me – what should we do?
My gut told me we needed to try to help. I pulled out my wallet and found just $8 cash. Suzanne opened her wallet and had $46. Together, we had exactly the $54 that our neighbor needed.
After we had given the woman the money and talked for a minute and she had left to work through the situation, we both momentarily questioned whether we had done the right thing.
I’m a person who lives by “the signs” – and the fact that, together, we both had the precise amount of money, and that this whole incident happened while I was reflecting upon the Corporal Works of Mercy, was enough for me.
However, on another level, it’s always right to help another person in need, to put Mercy into action in our world.
Earlier, I was reading a post on First Things titled The Need for Epiphanic Evangelicalism. You should read it, but part that resonated with me was a call for “the epiphany Jesus promises in work that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, and visits the sick and imprisoned. Part and parcel with Jesus’ epiphany in these ministries, their very costliness to Christians in time and treasure is a means that credibly signals the Church’s profession of Christ’s Kingdom in a day in which mere Church talk is dismissed by the culture.”
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, I’m going to try to work harder on stepping up my own “Epiphanies” of the Works of Mercy, and help my family to do the same. Will you join us?
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?’
“And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’”