Most of you are probably sitting reading this letter on Divine Mercy Sunday. The Second Sunday of Easter, that is, the Sunday that completes the Easter Octave, is also known as Divine Mercy Sunday. This year Divine Mercy Sunday takes on an extra significance since Pope Francis has declared the current year a special Jubilee Year of Mercy.
Divine Mercy Sunday is meant to be a very powerful reminder of the infinite mercy of our Heavenly Father towards each of us, and His burning desire to reconcile every sinner back to His heart. The events of Holy Week and in particular our celebration of the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross on Good Friday are a reminder that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will go to any length to bring forgiveness, mercy, and healing to the sinner.
What today’s feast, and indeed this entire year of Mercy, is meant to remind us of is that we, as believers and followers of Christ who have ourselves received His mercy, are called to be instruments of His mercy in our world. In particular, this Year of Mercy is meant to remind us of the central place that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are meant to play in the life of the believer.
The corporal works of mercy (“corporal” derived from the Latin word for “body,” corpus) are those works of mercy by which we aid our brothers & sisters in their bodily needs. They include feeding the hungry & giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and in other ways providing for the physical needs of others. Also numbered among these corporal works is the final goodness we can show to someone to bury the dead. By these actions, we honor our fellow men as temples of the Holy Spirit, and by helping to alleviate their physical sufferings, we aim to reflect the goodness and charity of Christ.
The spiritual works of mercy are, perhaps, less known and at least in our world today less practiced. These are actions we undertake for the sake of helping our brothers and sisters to draw closer to Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Among these works are to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, to bear wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries, and to pray for the living & the dead. These merciful actions pay homage to the reality that besides our physical bodies, all of us have intellect, emotions, and an immortal soul. Often the greatest sufferings in life anyone can endure are not physical, but emotional and spiritual: ruptured relationships, unforgiven hurts, the spiritual darkness and hopelessness of a life lived far away from God, who is the only source of all that is good. The spiritual works of mercy are particular ways in which we can help to bring God’s healing and mercy to these “invisible,” but very real, facets of people’s lives.
We live in a wounded world. May Jesus our Risen Savior give each of us the grace to be vehicles of his mercy to all those around us.
Fr. John Paul