Sunday, June 9, 2013

Works of Mercy

Catholicism is a religion of lists.  A list is a memorizing technique, and Catholics love to memorize things.  It avoids having to actually think about them.  

Of course, our family is also very familar with the technique.  First, Bob memorized all the stops of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad between Maplewood and New York City (partial list:  Maplewood, South Orange, Mountain Station, Highland Ave., Orange, Brick Church, East Orange. ...).  Then, Steve memorized the names of all the guys in his platoon (or some other military unit -- you have to ask him) in alphabetical order at Norwich.  Then, came the "one hen, two ducks," etc. memorization mania which occupied several weeks of our lives one summer.  My son John, in first or second grade, with no prompting from anyone, decided one day to memorize all the ranks of the U.S. Navy, for no other reason than they happened to be listed in a book he discovered at school. In my attempt to be like Bob in all ways, I memorized all the stops of the Amtrak line betweeen Harrisburg and 30th Street Station (I dragged Sue and later Ellen into the same project).

Anyway, the following is a partial list of the lists Catholics should memorize:

The 7 Sacraments
The 7 Corporal Works of Mercy
The 7 Spiritual Works of Mercy
The 3 Eminent Good Works
The 7 Gifts of the Holy Ghost 
The 12 Fruits of the Holy Ghost
The 3 Theological Virtues
The 4 Cardinal Virtues
The 7 Capital Sins & Their Contrary Virtues
The 6 Sins Against the Holy Ghost
The 4 Sins That Cry Out to Heaven
The 3 Conditions of Mortal Sin
The 9 Ways We Participate in Others' Sins
The 10 Commandments
The 2 Greatest Commandments
The 3 Evangelical Counsels
The 6 Precepts of the Church
The Holy Days of Obligation (they differ from country to country)
The 3 Powers of the Soul      
The 4 Pillars of the Catholic Faith
The 3 Pillars of the Church's Authority
The 3 Munera (Duties of the Ordained)
The 3 Parts of the Church
The 4 Marks of the Church
The 12 Apostles
The 12 Tribes of Israel
The 8 Beatitudes
The 14 Stations of the Cross
The 7 Sorrows (Dolours) and 7 Joys of Our Lady
The 7 Sorrows and 7 Joys of St. Joseph
The 15 Mysteries of the Rosary
The Order of Creation
The 9 Choirs of Angels
The 3 levels of reverence
The 14 Holy Helpers
The 7 Last Words of Christ
The 4 Last Things (The Novissima)

The whole reason for this post was to say a just few words about the Works of Mercy, both corporal and spiritual.  A recent discussion with a fellow attorney in my office, more steeped in Catholicism than I, led me to an internet search for the works of mercy, and I discovered some pretty interesting things.  First,  let's consider the corporal works of mercy.  Here is the original list:

To feed the hungry;
To give drink to the thirsty;
To clothe the naked;
To harbour the harbourless;
To visit the sick;
To ransom the captive;
To bury the dead.

It's hard to argue with the first three.  The next one gives one pause:  harbouring the harbourless.  Does one need to buy a dock to do this?  I think, quite letigimately, it's a metaphor for giving refuge to anyone in need.  Perhaps, it might have been stated as giving refuge to the refugee, or shelter to the homeless.

And then visiting the sick and burying the dead seem clear enough, but who has ransomed a captive lately?  That's one we should all probably work on.

OK, on with the spiritual works of mercy:

To instruct the ignorant;
To counsel the doubtful;
To admonish sinners;
To bear wrongs patiently;
To forgive offences willingly;
To comfort the afflicted;
To pray for the living and the dead.

I was also impressed with the spiritual works.   These are all good things to do.

None of the works of mercy have any particularly Catholic or even religious content.  If you just substitute wrongdoer for sinner in No. 3 and overlook No 7 of the seven spiritual works, even atheistic, secular humanists can perform all 14 works without any compromise of principle.  Even No. 7 can be secularized to read without too much of a stretch, "to show concern for the living and the dead," for isn't that what prayer is?  To me, they seem to provide some pretty solid guidelines for how to be a decent human being.  

Anyway, let's get out there and start ransoming some captives.  


James R said...

Like you, I'm scratching my head on harbouring the harbourless. That seems it would require a miracle or a new translation. I'm off to do more research on the 3 levels of reverence and the 14 Holy Helpers.

Big Myk said...

One list left off:

The 6 pairs of Don Alverzo's tweezers.