By ARCHBISHOP WILTON D. GREGORY, Commentary | Published November 26, 2015 | En Español
In the coming weeks, doors will be opened in churches throughout the world as the Jubilee Year of Mercy begins.
Pope Francis will ceremoniously open the “holy doors” of the four patriarchal basilicas in Rome (St. Peter’s, St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. Mary Major and St. John Lateran). We will open doors of seven designated churches here in the Archdiocese of Atlanta (the Cathedral of Christ the King, Sacred Heart of Jesus Basilica, Our Lady of the Americas Mission, Holy Vietnamese Martyrs Church, St. Philip Benizi Church, the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and the Monastery of the Holy Spirit).
These doors are symbolic of an openness and welcome to the graces of this Jubilee Year, and they are physical reminders for all of us of the theme of mercy and its consequences in our lives.
The Church has traditionally recognized two distinct sets of the works of mercy—the corporal and the spiritual. The corporal works of mercy are those activities that seek to attend to the physical needs of others—feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, providing shelter to the homeless, visiting the sick, ransoming the captive and burying the dead. These actions are essentially a variation of the passage from St. Mathew’s Gospel (Chapter 25), when Jesus describes what the King will do when he returns in glory at the end of time and an inventory of those norms by which we will all be judged.
The spiritual works of mercy are to admonish the sinner, instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, comfort the sorrowful, endure wrongs patiently, forgive all injuries and pray for the living and the dead.
Both of these categories of actions of faith stress our relationship with others and call us to be compassionate, forgiving, patient and merciful. In my humble opinion, the spiritual works of mercy may be more difficult to perform than the corporal works of mercy because they demand us all to change our own hearts. The spiritual works of mercy are founded on the Beatitudes—and we all know how challenging living the Beatitudes can be for each of us.
The corporal and the spiritual works of mercy are at the center of the coming Jubilee Year of Mercy because as Pope Francis has repeatedly reminded the entire Church, we are all called to encounter others and to have a special place in our hearts for the poor.
Thanksgiving week we will observe a lot of people engaged in the corporal works of mercy, as volunteers and generous folks throughout our nation participate in the activities of soup kitchens, collect food products for the homeless and poor, gather clothing for those same folks, support shelter centers for the homeless and do countless other acts of charity and compassion.
Thanksgiving is a time when we not only dine abundantly, but we also tend to remember those who are not as fortunate as we are and we reach out to them in many generous ways.
The spiritual works of mercy are not so easily fulfilled since they demand that we set aside old hurts, injuries and insults. We are called to comfort those who are sorrowful and filled with doubts and fears. We saw images of such behavior in the actions of so many people in Paris who embraced perfect strangers who were traumatized and frightened by the terrorist attacks. A wonderful man gave witness to his sorrow at the loss of his wife and declared that he would not succumb to hatred of those who launched such an awful attack even in the face of his immense suffering.
Such acts of mercy were far more edifying than working in a soup kitchen or collecting clothes, or even providing shelter for the homeless because they were actions that demonstrated a transformation of the human heart. It is often easier to open our wallets than to open our hearts.
May this Jubilee Year of Mercy not only help us to become more generous financially, but even more spiritually, according to the works of mercy that we will practice and make our own.
Happy Thanksgiving, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.