Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Love A Man, Part 2 of 2

Love of God and love of neighbor are connected. When the first one is aflame, the second one catches fire too. St. James put forth a concrete example: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27). To love my neighbor means I show mercy to my neighbor. Catholic tradition recognizes fourteen merciful acts -- seven for the body and seven for the soul -- called the Works of Mercy. How can I apply these in my life? Who is in need of mercy?

Some people think they need to be a missionary and travel to far-off lands to show mercy -- but this is incorrect. Honestly, I am guilty of this thought too. I sometimes think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37); the needy man laying on the side of the road is my generalization of any homeless man. Falling into thought, I convince myself that I should spend all my time helping numerous homeless people -- except, well, there aren't any homeless people in my area. I can travel to the inner city to find them, but, how do I help? What do I handout? Even if I answer all these questions and provide decent assistance, my family might resent my periodic absences. Travel if you're called -- say "Here I am, Lord" (Isaiah 8:6) and go -- but, if not, recognize the call to stay put and minister to those in your immediate life. These are your spouse, children, extended family, coworkers, church, and local community. Because of sin, everyone is impoverished (body or soul) and needs works of mercy.

Regarding works of mercy, I came across this scripture and related teaching by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) that set my cranial wheels turning:
Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).
Without charity nothing can be acceptable to God, nor does anything profit unto eternal life in the absence of charity. Now it happens that certain persons persevere in works of mercy without having charity. Wherefore nothing profits them to the meriting of eternal life, or to exemption from eternal punishment, as may be gathered from 1 Corinthians 13:3. Most evident is this in the case of those who lay hands on other people's property, for after seizing on many things, they nevertheless spend something in works of mercy. We must therefore conclude that all whosoever die in mortal sin, neither faith nor works of mercy will free them from eternal punishment, not even after any length of time whatever (Summa Theologica, Supplement, Question 99, Article 5).
I seriously need to reexamine the intentions behind my works of mercy. Am I truly acting out of love for God (charity) or acting self-serving? This question is good housekeeping for the soul. Take, for example, the Pharisees who made concerted efforts to perform works of mercy in public because they desired popularity and praise. Love of God and neighbor were not their motive. God allowed their prayers and deeds to benefit society, but the souls of the Pharisees benefited not. Their works of mercy did not bank any heavenly reward (Matt 6:20) because they performed for less than godly intentions. This is why, I think, Jesus says "they have received their reward in full" (Matt 6:5): earthly attention was their achievement. On the contrary, "Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends" (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est, 30).