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The work of mercy

by Father Ron Hutchinson

It is my burning desire that, during this jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It will be a way to reawaken our conscience, too often grown dull in the face of poverty. … Jesus introduces us to these works of mercy in his preaching so that we can know whether or not we are living as his disciples. (Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus, 15)

After a hiatus of more than a year, I was asked to once again contribute to FAITH Grand Rapids. I am excited to resume sharing my thoughts about discipleship, my vocation, as well as how to hear and answer God’s call. It is great to be back!

On Dec. 8, 2015, the Church began a yearlong Jubilee of Mercy called for by Pope Francis. This liturgical feast day recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind. After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. And so he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and immaculate in love, (cf. Eph 1:4) choosing her to be the mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy. Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” (Misericordiae Vultus, 3)

In calling us to reflect on the long-standing works of mercy, Pope Francis asks us to unite ourselves with
the Christian tradition that has existed since Jesus walked the earth. The early Christians carried on this tradition of caring for the poor and downtrodden, causing pagans in the post-apostolic age to say of them: “See how they love one another,” according to Tertullian. Over the centuries, we Catholics have built hospitals and schools throughout the world, providing relief, medical care and education to the masses. Our agencies have become household names in countless cities providing medicine, food, advocacy for justice and the comforting presence of a shoulder to lean on. We serve the homeless, the sick, the grieving and the imprisoned. Many religious orders were founded on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, some even adding the word “mercy” to their name. Yet we have also withheld mercy, as an institution and as individuals. Think about just the past few weeks. Where have you seen people in need: hungry, suffering doubt, dealing with illness or feeling lonely? How did you help them or fail to do so? How does your experience of seeing so many people in need shape your response to them?

It seems to me that Pope Francis understands all too well the human impulse to look the other way when we see suffering, especially given the overwhelming number of human needs that confront us daily. Our pope understands that we need to be challenged and rechallenged to love actively in the form of these works of mercy and charity, rather than making excuses for our inactivity.

The Gospel comes to life when we put our hands, feet and hearts to work. As the Church, you and I are, by our baptism, to be “workers of mercy.” In doing so, we become part of the legacy of Christian  disciples who, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said repeatedly, “respond to each other’s needs as if we were responding to the needs of God.”

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith, but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has not works, is dead. (Jas 2:14-17)

Father Ron Hutchinson is director of priestly vocations and continuing formation of priests for the Diocese of Grand Rapids, and pastor of Holy Redeemer Church in Jenison. Contact Father Hutchinson at rhutchinson@dioceseofgrandrapids.org.

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