by Ross Decker Sr
“When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also;” Acts 17:6
I listen to The Catholic Guy on Sirius Radio often. Near the end of this past Lenten season, the host, Lino Rulli, came up with an innovative idea that would make the Lenten experience more powerful in the lives of Catholics as well as making the Catholic witness more relevant to non-Catholics. Lino wondered why, instead of the ancient discipline of not eating meat on Fridays, wouldn’t it make sense for Catholics to perform a Friday corporal work of mercy. Let me tell you, that idea woke me up. Lino’s point was both amazingly simple and eloquently profound. If we were to make a statement with our Lenten penance, let’s not do some disciplinary trick. Let’s do a discipline that could turn the world upside down.
Before I went through the RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church I’d never heard of the Spiritual and Corporeal works of mercy. I’d been a member of an inter-denominational church for twenty two years where I never heard the works of mercy mentioned. That’s actually pretty odd because the Works of Mercy lend themselves quite well to a list. And we were a church of lists. We knew the five steps to a life God blesses, the ten steps to powerful prayer. We knew the six steps to financial freedom. Mostly, in that particular church, we knew the seven steps to resolving youthful conflicts. So many sermons were wrapped around the Bill Gothard acronym, DAROS-FS. Perhaps those letters don’t mean anything to you. If so, be grateful.
From there, I moved to an Evangelical Free Church. The corporeal works of mercy were not mentioned there by the pastor either. But, for that pastor, Glenn Blossom, the corporeal works of mercy were a daily way of life.
What would happen if the Church adopted Lino’s proposal? There are seven Fridays during lent and there are seven corporeal acts of mercy. The more I think about it, the more I think that the Church is missing out on a great opportunity to rock the world.
Imagine if a majority of Catholics fed the hungry on the first Friday of Lent. The church would have a foyer overflowing with canned goods and non-perishable food to share with those who needed it. The food could then be donated to a ministry that feeds the poor. Or, it could be as simple as each parish opening a food pantry for just that week. People would be lined up outside churches and the weekend papers would be full of stories about Catholics doing good. It’s our heritage, isn’t it? We believe in and act in accordance with a belief in the Preferential Option for the Poor. And, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see that caring for the marginalized on one day is the strongest impetus for doing it again.
The second Friday would be the day we gave drink to the thirsty. My friend Hugh Hollowell works with the poor every day and suggests that we could buy a sleeve of bottled water and keep it in a cooler in our car. Or we could pick up an extra bottle of water on our way in to work so we’d be ready to share with someone who needs it. We may also share the spiritual water of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John 4:14, “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.”
What would be the impact on the watching world if on the third Friday of Lent we were to run a clothing drive and bring clothing down to homeless shelters or Crisis Pregnancy centers? We could overflow the clothing bins that are in every strip mall parking lot. We could literally clothe the naked.
The fourth week is a bit tricky. It is the week where we would shelter the homeless. This might take a bit of ingenuity to accomplish. In simpler times it was not that unusual to take strangers into your homes for at least a short time. The Shunammite woman of the Old Testament built a special room onto her house for Elisha. I know that some people still do a version of that but I don’t imagine it’s practical for most of us today. Large cities have homeless shelters. There may be an option to volunteer there. I’m certain that mopping a floor or two or just sitting with someone whose life has been shattered could do a great deal of good.
Most parishes regularly list the sick of the parish in the bulletin. We’re a family. Families visit each other in times of sickness. We all do that, don’t we? Well, I don’t. But we could. Sure, it should be something we always do, but it would be a great start if, on the fifth week of Lent we could stop be to visit our sick church family members. I’m sure a covered dish and a half hour visit could brighten someone’s day.
Have you ever done prison visits? That is something I’ve had the opportunity to do. My wife is blessed with a great voice as well as a tender spirit that moves people when she sings. I’ve visited prisons with her where she would sing and someone would share a devotional thought. As Catholics we are to visit those who are incarcerated. The sixth week of Lent could be the time to do that. You could brighten the day of someone who goes long stretches of time without a visit. Your smile would go a long way.
Truthfully, I don’t know how you’d complete the last work. It’s the burying of the dead. I guess you’d need some special cooperation on the part of the person you’d be helping!
I think we could truly make a great impression on people were we to perform regular acts of kindness. It was Tertullian who noted that the early Christians would “support and bury poor people, supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents… and of old persons confined now to the house; But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.”
If only today, we could give our world a reason to say, “See how they love one another.”