"To bear wrongs patiently" and "to forgive offenses willingly" are two more of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. We've spoken of forgiveness more than once here, so let's look for a moment at bearing wrongs patiently. Perhaps if we were able to do this, we wouldn't need to forgive so much.
Bearing wrongs patiently, bearing anything patiently, seems to have gone out of style. It seems to be quite acceptable to "blow your top", vent your anger, yell at people and tell them off. Sometimes we are advised, by well-meaning people, not to hold things in but to let it all out. But is there not a time and place for letting things out? Rather than blowing up with a co-worker or yelling at a service person, it is often more effective to get ourselves under control and calmly, rationally interact with the other person. The calm, rational part is bearing wrongs patiently. Being kind to the spouse who has forgotten your anniversary (again) is bearing wrongs patiently. Walking behind your teenager who doesn't want to be seen with you is bearing wrongs patiently. A dozen examples a day may come to mind of the opportunity to practice this spiritual work of mercy. This work of mercy seems to me to work both ways - it is a mercy to both the practitioner and the recipient.
For Reflection: When in this past week have I lost it with someone? Did I apologize later? When has someone borne patiently the wrong that I have done? Is there a way to make amends now and thank them for being patient with me?
Reflect on Matthew 18:23-35.
Let us pray. Jesus, you have borne all my wrongs more than patiently. You died on the cross for them. Help me to do just a fraction of that for others.
A second Spiritual Work of Mercy is to warn the sinner. Never a popular thing to do. No one wants to hear someone else telling them they are sinning. So how can we practice this particular work of mercy? Let's remember first of all that it is a work of mercy and must be approached with love and mercy in mind, not judgment. As Paul wrote to the Galatians (6:1), "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently." Paul is speaking to a community of people who feel some spiritual responsibility toward each other to grow together in Christ. They are a community growing together in discipleship, working toward the common good. And they should treat each other gently.
The way the woman caught in adultery was being treated by the Jewish leaders was not a good example of warning the sinner (John 8:1-6). Their intent to stone her was not a warning to her but to others who might be thinking of adultery. Jesus' instruction to her was to leave her life of sin. She had already been publicly humiliated. There was no need for him to say more.
A word of warning would ordinarily be given in private, but the woman had been brought into the main public area of the temple. It would ordinarily be done one-on-one, but a group of men accosted her. It would ordinarily be done with compassion and mercy, but the leaders wanted to shame her and make an example of her. They were using her for their own ends. There was nothing gentle about it.
For Reflection: How would I react if someone were to warn me about a sin? How would I want to be approached? Before we begin to warn someone else, a time of intercessory prayer for that person would be helpful, and perhaps all that is necessary.
Let us pray. Jesus, if I am persisting in sin and hardened to it, I hope that you will send someone to warn me and that I will be open to that warning.
The Spiritual Works of Mercy can seem, in some ways, outdated. The first is usually given as "to instruct the ignorant." Today we often consider the term "ignorant" as a pejorative. But to be ignorant of something is not necessarily to be willfully ignorant. I admit there are many, many things I know nothing of and probably never will know anything about. On the other hand, there are fields of study that I know that others don't. It seems to me that this is normal today when the universe of knowledge has expanded so much. And if everyone knew everything a lot of conversations would be boring, wouldn't they?
Lots of people instruct the ignorant on a regular basis, for example, teachers. The other day I toured a battle field and George Washington's boyhood farm in Fredericksburg, VA. On the battlefield I was instructed by a National Park Guide; on the farm I listened to archaeologists both in person and on an ipad. I'm not quite as ignorant now as I was before about the Battle of the Wall or the Ferry Farm.
But instructing the ignorant as a spiritual work of mercy involves teaching someone about being a disciple of Jesus. Plenty of people do this too. Christian parents, first of all, instruct their children about right and wrong, about forgiving, and about the life of Jesus. Then there are those who teach discipleship more formally - catechists, pastors, and Bible study leaders, for example. Sometimes something as informal as telling a co-worker how God touched your life can be educational. So we see that opportunities abound to instruct the ignorant and it needn't be a matter of looking down on someone at all. Rather it is sharing something precious to us - our life with Christ.
For Reflection: How have I shared my life in Christ with others in the last few weeks? If I have a godchild, have I been in touch with him/her lately?
Let us pray. Jesus, I may not have been so good about talking about you to others in the past, but I want to do better in the future. Help me to recognize anyone in my life who could use some instruction.
Welcoming travelers and showing hospitality was an important characteristic of Jewish people in the Old Testament and continues in the New Testament. Just a few examples are Deuteronomy 10:19 and Leviticus 19:34; Matthew 5:43-44, 25:35, 40; Romans 13:8, 10; Hebrews 13:1 and Romans 12:13. Jesus also told a story or parable about how to treat our "neighbors." It's the story of the Good Samaritan and the neighbor in question is a complete stranger (Luke 10:29-37). While traveling a main road a man is set upon by robbers who beat him, strip him and leave him half dead. Some people, who certainly knew how to treat a traveler, passed him by. But a Samaritan, a person possibly less-versed in Jewish law, stopped and saw to the victim's every need - care for his wounds, transportation and lodging, plus all of his expenses. The Samaritan not only saw the man in the road, he treated him like family, with love, and took care of him. It was the Samaritan who showed mercy.
The first four of the Corporal Works of Mercy are to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked and shelter the homeless or the traveler. The Good Samaritan did all of these at one time. He treated the hapless man with respect and dignity. He didn't ask what kind of man the victim was, whether he was Jewish or Roman, slave or free, good or evil. He saw someone who desperately needed help and he provided it.
For Reflection: Many people today are without jobs, without homes, without enough medical insurance. If we want to follow the command of Jesus to love your neighbor as yourself, we must respond. We cannot pass by, blind to the need and suffering of others.
Let us pray. Jesus, as I travel the roads, help me to see, to love, to respond in mercy.
Some years back a young woman from my office ended up in the hospital in ICU. Honestly, the doctors had no idea what was wrong with her. What seemed to start out as a cold turned into a high fever with a coma. After a few days I had figured out the doctor's schedule and tried to be there when the doctor arrived. The news was grim: she was not expected to recover and the hospital was recommending transfer to a long term care facility. Her hands had already started to develop the curve common to deep coma patients.
When I was with her each day, I began to call her out of the coma, to call her to wake up. Although I didn't see it happen, later that day friends reported that her eyelids were beginning to flutter. In another day her eyes were open.
The doctor said that the left side of her body was paralyzed and would never regain movement. My approach by then was to simply contradict whatever the doctor negatively diagnosed and to sing in tongues whenever I was with her. She began to move her left side. The doctor said she could hear but didn't know English. I knew better and proved it to a room full of hospital staff. Although she was on her way to recovery, she still had no idea who I was. The doctor said she would not speak again. More prayer. She spoke.
They moved her out of ICU onto a floor for patients who had suffered a stroke. The doctors admitted she had not had a stroke, but she had weakness like a person after a stroke. Physical therapy began to rebuild her strength. The doctors said she would not regain her ability to swallow and would have to be fed through a feeding tube the rest of her life. I continued to contradict, in prayer, what the doctor prophesied and to pray over her in tongues. Finally, she remembered me. She was speaking, weakly and hoarsely, but she was speaking. Her mother had arrived from South America and was sitting by her side and praying also by this time. She was walking and moving both sides of her body.
She was transferred to a rehabilitation facility. Eventually she completely recovered because God healed her and healed her and healed her. She was wasn't healed instantaneously, but over a period of a couple of months she regained all of her previous abilities and was able to go home and be with her husband and young daughter again. Later she returned to work.
"To visit the sick" is one of the Corporal Works of Mercy. Visiting the sick is something many people do. But when Christians visit the sick their purpose is to pray for healing and to persevere in that prayer. Doctors diagnose what they can see and test for. But Our Doctor healed people, raised them from the dead, and rose from the dead himself. That's the kind of visiting doctor we should be.
For Reflection: Do I shy away from visiting the sick? Do I offer to pray with them when I visit?
Let us pray. Jesus, you are the Divine Healer. I offer myself to be used by you to not only visit the sick but also to pray with them. I offer to persevere in that prayer and not become discouraged.
Another of the Corporal Works of Mercy is to "visit the imprisoned" or to "ransom the captive". Visiting and ransoming, although both good, are really quite different things. Visiting someone leaves them in their current state while ransoming them takes them out of it. Jesus was not concerned about visiting people, but he was concerned about ransoming them. He was so concerned about ransoming us from the snares of Satan and sin that he died to set us free. Had he become man and not died and risen for us he would have just visited us. As Paul says, if that were the case our faith would be in vain and we would still be in our sins - a condition to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Jesus did much more than visit us.
And so, what should we, as followers of Christ, be about? Should we be visiting the imprisoned or ransoming the captives? Visiting someone in prison is certainly a good deed, a work of mercy. When we visit a prisoner we should always bring them the good news and help to ransom their soul from sin even if we cannot affect the imprisonment of their body. At the very least we should pray with them and assure them of God's eternal love.
Ransoming captives, although an archaic phrase, still has meaning and relevance today. Many people are held captive physically, spiritually, or emotionally. People who are being trafficked for sex, held as slaves within a household are being held captive. People dependent upon illegal drugs are held captive. People physically or emotionally abused are held captive. People addicted to pornography or any other sin are held captive.
For Reflection: The Corporal Work of Mercy to visit the imprisoned or ransom the captive is still relevant and necessary today. How am I living it out? How have I helped to set someone free? When have I visited someone in prison to bring them the good news?
Let us pray. Jesus, I thank you for doing so much more than visiting me. I thank you for dying to set me free. I want to follow your example and work with you to help set others free. Help me to see the captives I pass by every day.
As you may have noticed with the posts on Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and on Judas, I have been thinking about some of the characters who are mentioned in the last days of Jesus' life. Joseph of Arimethea is named as the one who asked Pilate for Jesus' body so that he could be buried quickly. In John's gospel, Nicodemus assists Joseph with the burial rites (John 19:38-42).
It seems to me that Joseph and Nicodemus did this at great risk to themselves as Jews. Jesus had been killed for being a blasphemer and insurrectionist. Stepping up to claim the body closely associates them with Jesus - something none of the remaining apostles were around to do. And so, although hurried, they perform a great act of mercy. Burying the dead is known as one of the Corporal Works of Mercy.
Nowadays most of us don't have the opportunity to physically bury someone. We have funeral homes to handle the preparation of the body and cemeteries to prepare the grave site. Yet from time-to-time we have the opportunity to attend funerals in order to honor the one who has died and to comfort the grieving. It is an act of mercy to do so (Matthew 5:7) and a means of fulfilling the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:35-40).
For Reflection: Have I ever thought myself to be too busy to attend a funeral? Have I in any way dishonored the dead? Have I made plans for my own death and funeral? As he was dying, Jesus made arrangements for his mother (John 19:26-27). Perhaps the next time I attend a funeral I will remember Joseph and Nicodemus who gave of themselves in a time of need.
Let us pray. Jesus, may I be as faithful to you and to others as Joseph and Nicodemus were.
Another character writ large in the tale of Jesus' death is Judas. Judas's plotting and treachery are well-known.
We last looked at the role of Mary, the sister of Lazarus, who poured the expensive perfume over Jesus. It was a tremendous act of honor, but many of those present criticized her for this "waste" of good money - over a year's wages worth of perfume. Jesus, however, lauds what she has done. "She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial" (Mark 14:6-8).
While his words uplift Mary they disappoint Judas. Judas, who probably expected that Jesus had plans to overthrow the Roman oppressors, now sees that Jesus' kingdom is not about collecting money or gathering followers in order to raise an army. And if Jesus is not going to do that, then Judas is not going to have a prominent position in any new government. As treasurer, he has just lost out on a great deal of money. So he has lost hope of personal and financial gain. Add to that the fact that Jesus keeps talking about his death and Judas realizes there is no future with this guy. He has wasted several years of his life in following Jesus. And so he betrays him.
Yet, after selling Jesus out to the chief priests, Judas sits at table with Jesus to celebrate the Passover. On the one hand we can easily be shocked by the hypocrisy of celebrating a religious feast with a man he has sold out. But on the other hand we might examine our own lives for hypocrisy in relation to Jesus. Do our actions always match our words? Do we say we love Jesus and then mistreat our families? Do we say we follow Jesus and then neglect to help the poor? Rather than criticizing Judas, let us look to our own actions. Our actions may not be as well-known as those of Judas, yet they can be just as deadly.
Let us pray. "Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the Lord our God is holy" (Psalm 99:9). Jesus, I say I love you, whom I cannot see, and yet I have trouble loving others, whom I can see. I want to be more like you. I want to be more loving. I want to be more caring. I want my actions to match my words and your words more closely. Help me, Jesus, to root out the hypocrisy, the treachery, in my own life.
I started this website and blog on May 1, 2012. I am a Catholic who has been in ministry for many years. I first developed what I would call a close relationship with Jesus in the early 1970s. Ever since then I have been praying with people for healing and other needs. It is because I have seen so many of these prayers answered that I am so bold as to offer to pray for you individually through this website and phone line.