In late November, custodian Jose Moran set up the Christmas manger at Holy Jesus Child Church in Queens, NY. He took a lunch break and then returned to the church. What he found there was surprising, to say the least: a newborn baby was crying in the manger – so young, his umbilical cord was still attached. The parish has accepted the infant with open arms, with multiple families volunteering to adopt him.
Fr. Christopher Heanue is an administrator at the parish. “I think it’s beautiful. A church is a home for those in need, and she felt, in this stable — a place where Jesus will find his home — a home for her child,” he told the New York Times. “Pope Francis has called this a year of mercy in the church…What better way to be merciful than to find a home for those in need.”
The Jubilee of Mercy started on December 8. Inspired by the example of Holy Jesus Child Church, here are just 10 ways you might try to practice that type of mercy during the year ahead.
1. Pray for those who are hungry before every meal.
Prayer changes things – including the heart and mind of the one who prays. Working on this simple habit unites us to those who are hungry should lead to fruitful action, like wasting less and giving more to organizations that fight hunger, for instance
2. Get to know someone living on the margins.
There are number of social service agencies in our region that facilitate encounters with those living on society’s peripheries: the poor, the homeless, the lonely. Connect with one of these organizations and spend time with someone the agency serves. Get to know his or her name and a bit about their story, and share of yourself. As we see in parables like the Good Samaritan, mercy involves physically moving toward those who suffer – not just writing a check or dropping some old clothes in a donation box.
3. Learn more about a pressing social issue.
What makes you say, “The world shouldn’t be this way”? Pick an urgent issue threatening human dignity in the world right now. Learn more about it and research what Church leaders have said about it. Then, learn about how you can be involved in possible solutions to the problem, in a small or large way.
4. Memorize the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Memorization is big for us Catholics – we memorize prayers, Mass responses, the dates of particular feast days, the pattern of the rosary, and more. We don’t memorize just to be able to repeat things in a rote way, but so these key ingredients of our faith become fully integrated into our lives. They become part of us. I know I still don’t have the works of mercy memorized. Maybe I’d be better at living them if they were more fully present on my mind and in my heart.
5. Read Mercy in the City by Kerry Weber.
Speaking of integrating the works of mercy into our everyday lives – journalist Kerry Weber committed to practicing all the corporal works of mercy during a Lenten season a few years ago and recorded her experiences in this book. Her authentic witness is inspiring and makes for a great read. Perhaps it’ll spark some good ideas in you.
6. Visit a sick or elderly friend or relative.
When Pope Francis talks about people who are often forgotten or even discarded as part of our “Throwaway Culture,” he almost always mentions the elderly. Loneliness is a real epidemic in our culture. If you don’t have someone close you to you who you can visit, connect with the activities department at a local nursing home and see how you might be able to get involved.
7. Advocate for more just public policy at a lawmaker’s office.
Mercy involves spending time with those who are suffering. It also includes raising your voice on their behalf. One powerful way to make your voice heard is to visit local lawmakers’ offices to advocate for more just legislation. To learn about pertinent legislative issues that affect those on the margins of society, and how the Church suggests you respond to them, visit the website for the movement Catholics Confront Global Poverty at www.confrontglobalpoverty.org.
8. Buy Fair Trade.
Here’s another less-obvious way to practice mercy – in your role as a consumer. Fair Trade products – which range from coffee and tea to clothing and jewelry – are produced by fairly-paid adults around the world. By buying Fair Trade, you can help give a hand-up to those living in poverty in developing countries. Find Fair Trade coffee in your local grocery store. Your parish can even host a Fair Trade sale through a partnership with Catholic Relief Services; visit www.crsfairtrade.org to learn how.
9. Watch you language.
The words we use shape how we view the world. When it comes to mercy, it’s easy to see its practice as a top-down thing in which the more-fortunate generously reach down to give something to the less-fortunate. But in God’s eyes, we are all equally valuable and loved. So, here are some words I’d suggest steering clear of when talking about the practice of mercy: give back; helping the less fortunate; make a difference. Instead, try things like: build relationships; mutuality; kinship.
10. Start or strengthen a Life & Justice Coordinating Team at your parish.
In a document called Communities of Salt and Light, the bishops of the United States write, “The local parish is the most important ecclesial setting for sharing and acting on our Catholic social heritage.” What does this mean? We can’t leave the work of mercy to Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic healthcare, and other similar organizations. These are all great and essential institutions, of course. But as the parish is where faith is meant to be lived in entirety, the parish must be engaged in organized, efficient, widespread works of mercy. A well-formed coordinating team is the best way to empower the faithful to get involved. My office offers training sessions to help get you up and running. Email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call me (856.583.2910) to learn more.