Thursday, April 24, 2008

How Do We Serve? The Works of Mercy

Christians serve others in an infinite variety of ways. It is part of the diversity that makes us a universal Church.

We do not all have the same gifts, talents, or abilities, so of course we would not all serve in the same way.

St. Paul tells us, though, that while there are many types of gifts, there is but One Spirit. So no matter what we are doing to serve others, we are all united in our efforts to build up the Kingdom of God.

For centuries the Church has used 14 categories to describe the different types of service that we do, and these are given a special name- the Works of Mercy.

We are encouraged to "Be merciful just as our Heavenly Father is merciful" and so we see our service not merely as doing a job, but as sharing God's love and mercy with other people.

The Works of Mercy are split into two groups: Corporal & Spiritual.

The Corporal Works of Mercy - these are the physical or "bodily" things we can do to share God's love and mercy with others.

1. Feed the Hungry - we can give food directly to those in need, or we can raise money to provide food for food pantries. We can also volunteer our time working at a food pantry or distribution center. Finally, we can raise awareness of those suffering from extreme hunger in other parts of the world and encourage governments, organizations, and individuals to offer them help.

2. Give Drink to the Thristy - few of us have ever known real thirst. We are blessed to live in a country where clean water is readily available. However, there are places in our world where people do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. Research the efforts that are being made to increase people's access to clean water. Find out what you can do to help one of these organizatoins.

3. Clothe the Naked - It has often been said that "Clothes do not make the man." While it is true that clothing is not the most important thing, there are people who lack the right clothes for work, for job interviews, or for their children. One of the easiest ways to perform this work of mercy is to clean out your own closet and encourage family members to do the same. While places like Goodwill are glad to take your donations, look for homeless shelters or other programs that will give the clothes to those in need rather than sell it to them. You can also start a clothing drive in your neighborhood, church, athletic team, or club. You can always donate to the one here at CRHS in the spring.

4. Care for the Sick - Everyone knows what it's like to have a cold or flu. For most of us it is an irritation or discomfort that goes away in a week. For people with serious health problems illness is something they have to live with everyday. The least we can do in this regard is to visit those who are sick. This can mean volunteering at a Children's Hospital like Riley or Peyton Manning / St. Vincent where sick children from all over the midwest receive care. It can also mean visiting patients in a hospice or a nursing home, or even raising money to fund research for cures or treatments.

5. Shelter the Homeless - having a place to call "home" is a very basic human need. While it is not safe or advisable for us to take the homeless into our own homes, we can still help those who have no place to lay their heads. You can volunteer at a homeless shelter which provides short term housing. You can also participate with Habitat for Humanity which builds homes for families in need. This work of mercy can also extend to helping people who cannot afford it make repairs to their homes - but only do this one if you have the skill and knowledge for such projects.

6. Visit the Imprisoned - People make mistakes - bad choices - and have to suffer the consequences of those choices. Sometimes, for the safety of society, those consequences mean serving a prison sentence. However, prison is intended to provide the offender with an opportunity to reform - to change his or her life and avoid bad choices in the future. However, it can be difficult to want to change if you feel like everyone on the "outside" has already written you off as a criminal. Various Prison Ministry programs provide hope and help for those wanting to reform. For safety reasons prison ministry is usually something that only adults can do. However, if you are interested, ask at your church or parish for ways you can help support the efforts of prison ministry programs.

7. Bury the Dead - though at one time this work of mercy was to quite literally provide a grave for a deceased person that is not what we are meant to do today. Our society has laws and procedures regarding how the deceased are handled. However, this work of mercy has evolved and is still relevant in society today. Have you ever wondered what becomes a homeless person when they die? Or what about the elderly person who has no family, no friends, and no money? Usually these people are placed in graves in what are sometimes called "Potter's Fields". The only people present at the grave side are the people physically placing the casket into the grave.

Some young men at a St. Ignatius Catholic High School in Cleveland, Ohio decided that they wanted to live this Work of Mercy on behalf of those who depart from this life alone. They created a group called the Society of St. Joseph of Arimathea. (This is the St. Joseph who in the Gospels requested the body of Jesus from Pontius Pilate and placed it in his own tomb.) These young men serve as pallbearers at funerals for people who would otherwise have no one. They also perform a brief grave side prayer service for the departed.

No comments: