As we gathered at my parents’ house, united in our grief, friends of my grandfather came and went. Unable to capture their condolences with words, they left food: warm bowls of soup, cheesy chicken cordon bleu casserole, rich Moroccan chicken and soothing chocolate.
After my grandfather’s funeral, his fellow St. Joseph parishioners prepared the parish hall with tablecloths, real silverware and lunch for all attendees. When thanked, one woman simply responded, “Of course. The grandfather of the universe was buried today.”
In their quiet work, the St. Joseph’s parishioners showed us God’s mercy. Their participation in the corporal and spiritual works of mercy extended to us: we were the afflicted that were comforted and the hungry who were fed. It was our grandfather, Abba, who they prayed for and helped bury. We received God’s compassion through these simple gestures.
Reflecting on mercy this year, I contemplate how these undemanding, straightforward actions were able to effectively communicate God’s love, mercy and compassion in a time of immense sorrow. It spurs me to do the same: to spread God’s compassion through my actions to those in need, using the works of mercy as a guide. But how can I do as Jesus instructs his followers in Matthew 25 while still attending the normal duties in life? When do I have time to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned and bury the dead?
Reflecting on how to incorporate the corporal works of mercy into my life requires thinking about my state in life, accepting the limits of my daily obligations as well as the freedoms that they offer. With a baby and toddler in tow, I am not able to spend afternoons at the soup kitchen, but I do make dinner most nights. I can make a little bit more for a parish funeral, a family welcoming a baby, or someone who is sick. In ordering my house, I can pass along extra clothes and toys to Birth Choice or directly to a family in need. On my weekly grocery shop, I can sacrifice some unnecessary treat food to come in under budget and give the extra to someone in need.
Other people, with different demands on their resources, incorporate the works of mercy into their life in other ways. My dad, a professor with grown children, spends many Saturday afternoons volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul and his yearly spring break with students at an orphanage in Uganda. In college, a good friend used her free time volunteering with Catholic Charities’ refugee resettlement program; now, as a married woman who doesn’t yet have children, she works for Dominican Volunteers in Chicago.
A family I know with older children carves out time from school, sports and piano to volunteer at a local soup kitchen or attend the parish work day. We can all give part of our monthly tithe to the arms of the Church engaged in the sheltering the homeless, like Rose Home and Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement program, or feeding the hungry, like Sister BJ’s pantry and the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
Engaging in and otherwise supporting the works of mercy, as Christ makes clear in the Last Judgment parable, are essential aspects of being Christian. In doing so, we are serving Christ himself, as he makes clear: “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did it to me.”
Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick writes from Oklahoma City.