Living out the works of mercy is a matter of encountering Christ in others and sharing his love and truth with them, especially with those who are suffering or spiritually lost, two speakers said at the recent Kraków in the Capital stateside celebration of World Youth Day in Washington, D.C.
One day after Pope Francis offered a moving reflection on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy after leading the Stations of the Cross at World Youth Day in Kraków, Poland, young adults attending a related all-day festival of faith in the capital city of the United States were offered advice on living those works of mercy in everyday life.
“We’re called to serve the crucified Jesus in all those who are marginalized,” said Jonathan Reyes, the executive director of the Department of Justice, Peace and Human Development for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, underscoring a key message of the pope’s Stations of the Cross reflection in Kraków.
Reyes spoke on the corporal works of mercy in his session at the July 30 gathering at The Catholic University of America.
The Kraków in the Capital event mirrored Pope Francis’ celebration of World Youth Day in Poland, with 1,300 young adults assembling in Washington for a day of catechetical talks, Polish food and music, opportunities for Confession, and Stations of the Cross and a closing Mass led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the archbishop of Washington, followed by a concert.
In her session on the spiritual works of mercy, Gloria Purvis – a wife and mother who hosts the EWTN radio show “Morning Glory” – said, “Everything about the spiritual works of mercy should be motivated by love. If you don’t speak the truth, who will?”
Reyes said that Pope Francis emphasizes building a culture of encounter, in contrast to the world’s culture of exclusion. “This is essential to what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ,” he said.
He noted how the pope in his Stations of the Cross reflection on the corporal works of mercy rooted in Matthew 25 – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, and burying the dead – said that Christ offers an answer to the world’s question, of where is God when people are homeless or refugees, or when children are exploited or sick: “God is in them.”
The USCCB official pointed out how Mother Teresa said that the greatest poverty in the world is when people are in isolation and lack love, when they are invisible, forgotten or abandoned. Her answer, he said, was to see the face of Jesus in the face of the poorest of the poor, and reach out to them with love.
When Reyes led Catholic Charities in Denver, he said that a formerly homeless person gave him an eye-opening tour of where the homeless lived throughout the city, which helped lead him to start a “Christ in the City” program where college students got to know and serve the poor there.
He noted that the Spanish word encuentro refers to such an encounter, where you truly meet someone and share in their humanity, a reality reflected in the motto of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman: “Heart speaks to heart.”
With that mindset, it’s not enough to just drop coins to the poor or just “do nice things,” Reyes said. He encouraged the young adults to seek magnanimity, to be people of great souls, and he quoted Pope Benedict’s saying, “You were made for greatness.”
“The Lord made you and me for greatness… to go out and love,” Reyes told the young adults, saying that is the way to bring Christ to the world. “…Build a culture of encounter, and you’ll know joy.”
In her talk, Purvis offered a practical look at each of the seven spiritual works of mercy. In a society where people don’t want to judge others, she said admonishing the sinner means to advise someone to turn away from sin, for his or her own good.
“It’s an act of love,” she said, adding, “Sometimes the sinner is you.” She said people, even oneself, can be prideful and not want to hear when they are doing the wrong thing. “We do have hope that a person can turn away from sin and be forgiven by God.”
Instructing the ignorant is done “for the benefit of their soul,” Purvis said. “You’re inviting that person to a relationship with Jesus, to encounter Jesus in the truth.” Sometimes a family member or friend might be ignorant of the truth about a moral issue, she said.
“Darkness prevails where we refuse to shine the light,” Purvis said.
Purvis said counseling the doubtful can be a matter of “helping the undecided come to a good decision, rooted in holiness and the goal of getting to heaven.” She described how a woman she knew decided to live chastely before marriage, even though she faced pressure from people to do otherwise.
“She stayed firm, and had good voices around her. We all know following Christ is hard, it’s not easy,” the radio host noted.
Comforting the sorrowful, she said, can involve accompanying someone, to help them have courage and persevere through the difficulty they are facing. “Sometimes it’s about being quiet, being with the person,” Purvis said. “At the root of all this is prayer… listening to God’s voice to guide you.”
Experiencing failure can help one realize how they need God’s grace, she said.
Purvis said that bearing wrongs patiently is a work of mercy that people have lots of opportunities to practice in daily life, for example, in not getting angry when someone cuts you off in traffic. “Don’t add gasoline to the fires of hatred. Smother the fire with love,” she said.
The way family members of the victims of the Charleston church shootings forgave the man who killed their loved ones offers an inspiring example of forgiving offenses, Purvis said, adding forgiveness is “a gift from God” that frees people’s hearts.
Praying for the living and the dead is essential, she added, even for a beloved grandmother whom you’re sure is already in heaven. “She might need a little pit stop” on the way, Purvis said.
Like Reyes, she said being merciful and reaching out in love to someone in need is a way to unite with Christ. She noted, “When you see the brokenness of a soul, the Lord is saying, ‘Will you get on the cross with me, (and) take on the suffering of another?’”