The Year of Mercy began this week, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Catholic Center employees were invited to spend that day, or at least part of that day, with agencies dedicated to one or more of the corporal works of mercy. On Tuesday, we had members of our staff dispersed at various Catholic Charities agencies, outreach services to persons with disabilities, and a number of other places. It was a great gift for me to spend a few hours with the Saint Vincent de Paul Society at Resurrection in Ellicott City.
St. Vincent told us to “go to the poor: you will find God.” By working with the poor in this parish based ministry, we not only found God in those coming for assistance but in those who served them. One of the greatest ways Jesus transformed lives was by making those who were invisible visible. Jesus saw people that no one else seemed to see and encountered them with love. So did John, Carol, Regina and Bonnie of this special St. Vincent de Paul ministry.
The seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel offers a beautiful account of Jesus making the invisible visible. You remember the story. A Pharisee invites Jesus to dine with him, and Jesus and others accept the invitation. A sinful woman in the city learns that he is at table in the house of the Pharisee. She brings an alabaster flask of ointment, wipes his feet with her hair, and anoints them with oil.
The Pharisee who had invited Jesus sees this happening and says to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” After engaging Simon in a story, Jesus turns to him and says, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment.”
Simon, do you see this woman? Jesus asks each of us, “Do you SEE this man, this woman?” Jesus saw those that others did not see. He encountered people, people that others could not or would not see, and transformed them from invisible to visible. He saw the person with leprosy or the beggars in the street that others passed by, he saw persons who were discounted because of their place of origin, or their status in the community. He saw Zacchaeus, invisible in the tree, and made him visible. Encounters with Jesus were life changing.
Today, I had the chance to SEE a woman who was going to be treated by a doctor, but had no gas to get to her appointment. I began to understand how every area of our life is impacted when we are involuntarily poor. I met a full-time student and mom who just needed food for her children, and a man who was in transitional housing for the first time in a while. He finally had a place with a stove, but he had no food to eat. I met two different people who were facing court ordered evictions and people who only wanted a Christmas tree. I spoke to a woman who was all excited that she would be receiving jelly…she had peanut butter and bread. The jelly would be a treat. She said, “Sometimes you’re at the end of where you can go, and people reach out a hand to help you.” Today, I saw the invisible more clearly than I had in a long time.
Who are the invisible in our parish communities? In our boundaries and zip codes?
Could our pastoral staff or pastoral council take a day to “go the marginalized” as a part of this Year of Mercy?
How are we called to get out of our comfort zone?
What can we do to celebrate the Year of Mercy?
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” He heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
God, who is merciful, desires our mercy. Here are 54 ways to keep to mercy during the Jubilee Year. Try randomly selecting one each week and putting it into practice. (We gave you two extra; mix them up!)
1) Resist sarcasm; it is the antithesis of mercy: “Set, O Lord, a guard over my mouth; keep watch, O Lord, at the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).
2) Pare down possessions: share your things with the needy.
3) Call someone who you know is lonely, even if you understand why they’re lonely. Especially if you do.
4) “Write a letter of forgiveness to someone. If you cannot send it, sprinkle it with holy water, ask Christ Jesus to have mercy on you both and then burn or bury it.”
5) Learn to say this prayer: “Dear Lord, bless [annoying person’s name] and have mercy on me!”
6) Plan a mini pilgrimage to a local shrine; make an effort along the way to live the corporal work of mercy of “welcoming the stranger” as Christ.
7) Do something kind and helpful for someone who you don’t get along with, or who has wronged you.
8) Be mindful of your behavior online. Is that post designed to improve your image … and leave others feeling bad? Are you hammering people in order to serve your anger and humiliate others?
9) Have masses said for the living: friends and family members, even strangers you read/hear about, who are having a hard time.
10) Be generous enough to allow someone to help you; people need to feel needed.
11) If you didn’t mean to be a pain in the neck to someone, admit that you were and ask the person to forgive you.
12) Take a tip from Cardinal Timothy Dolan and carry around $5 Starbucks and McDonald’s gift cards for the homeless.
13) Take time in prayer to contemplate the good qualities of someone who is difficult for you. Do the same for each member of your family.
14) Send a card, flowers, gift or note to someone on the six-month anniversary of his or her loved one’s death. By then most people have stopped recognizing their grief.
15) Offer to babysit for a busy mom to go out and have a couple of hours to herself.
16) Make a meal (or buy a gift certificate) for a mom who’s just given birth or adopted a child, or for someone who’s just gone through a loss.
17) Hold. Your. Tongue.
18) Offer to run an errand (groceries, dry cleaning pick up, dog-walking) for a busy parent or homebound person.
19) If you can’t sit down beside a homeless person to talk for a while today, at least send a donation to a ministry that does do this (such as Christ in the City).
20) If you’re sharing a treat, take the smaller portion.
21) Memorize the 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy and show your children what they mean.
22) Instead of losing patience with someone online (or in person), try to hear their fear. Ask God for what Solomon asked for: “an understanding heart.”
23) Offer to drive an elderly person to Mass.
24) Recall a time you were not given a benefit of a doubt, and extend one to someone else.
25) Put down the phone and really listen to someone else. With eye contact.
26) Have alternative drinks, other than water, for times when those who have been struggling with alcohol come to visit.
26) Take advantage of sales to buy small toothpastes, soaps, shampoos, socks and feminine products/toiletries; donate them to parish outreach, or make gift bags and have them ready to hand out where needed.
27) Read John Paul II’s “Dives in misericordia” bit-by-bit through the year.
28) Create a short end-of-day ritual to ask for (and extend) forgiveness with those you live with. “…do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph 4:26).
29) Make a list of your “enemies.” Then, every day, say a prayer for them.
30) Make a point to smile, greet or make conversation with someone who is not in your everyday circle.
31) Give away something of yours (that you really like) to someone you know who would enjoy it.
32) Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet as you are traveling to or from work.
33) When mercy for others is difficult, pray Cardinal Merry del Val’s Litany of Humility.
34) Make a gratitude journal for your spouse and jot down little things he or she does that you’re grateful for. Bite your tongue and go write in it (or at least read it) the next time you want to criticize in a moment of frustration.
35) Learn to make an Ignatian “Examen”every night. Remembering God’s mercy each night helps us to be merciful.
36) Respond to provocation with the respect you wish a person would show you.
37) Learn the Jesus Prayer and use it.
38) Take a few minutes during the week to stop at a church and sit before the Tabernacle, simply to be with Christ, the Merciful. If you cannot do that, meditate upon the crucifix.
39) Pray a novena for the good of someone you dislike.
40) Dig out your most attractive stationary and hand-write an actual letter to someone, as a means of demonstrating their importance to you.
41) Offer to read to someone who is feeling ill or is just feeling blue.
42) Ask the Holy Spirit to groan for you when you cannot bring yourself to pray for someone who has done you an injury.
43) Lead with a kind comment with friends as well as strangers.
44) When conversations devolve into “the dark joy” of gossip, help change the subject.
45) Can you play the piano, or any instrument? Can you recite poetry? Give free “concerts” to the forgotten people in nursing homes and assisted living centers.
46) Visit the graves of your ancestors, or visit a local cemetery and walk around praying a rosary for all the souls buried there
47) Go On Retreat. It’s a way to be merciful to yourself and also to the people around you, who know you need to go on retreat. If you cannot do that, at least try to make a day, or evening, of recollection.
48) Admit your jealousy, both to yourself and your confessor.
49) Offer to pray with someone, even someone you encounter on the street or public transport who looks like they could use it.
50) Keep holy cards, short prayers, or blessed medals handy and give them out to people you meet as you are inspired as a blessing to others.
51) Offer hospitality in your home to someone or a group of people you would normally never invite over.
52) With a few other people at your church, plan a party and invite all those from “the highways and byways” to come.
51) If someone you know seems to lack faith, share some of yours — tell him or her how Christ has changed your life.
52) Pay the parking or toll fee for the person behind you.
53) Give the much-maligned Pope Benedict XVI a fair reading sometime. You’ll be surprised.
54) Pray every day for the souls in Purgatory. Pray for your dead.