I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIEND, JESUS CHRIST

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Spiritual Works of Mercy: A Contemporary Retelling of Matthew 25:31–46

OnePeterFive

The twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew is surely one of the most rousing of all chapters in the New Testament. It has shocked into spiritual wakefulness unnumbered Christians down through the centuries; it has inspired the art of church doors and altar pieces from one end of Christendom to the other; it has prompted a never-ending examination of conscience.

And when the Son of man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then shall he sit upon the seat of his majesty. And all nations shall be gathered together before him, and he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on his left.

Then shall the king say to them that shall be on his right hand: Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

Then he shall say to them also that shall be on his left hand: Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink. I was a stranger, and you took me not in: naked, and you covered me not: sick and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least, neither did you do it to me.

And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

This passage is the key (although not exclusive) Scriptural basis for speaking of the seven “corporal works of mercy”:

To feed the hungry.

To give water to the thirsty.

To clothe the naked.

To shelter the homeless.

To visit the sick.

To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.

To bury the dead.

Parallel to these acts of mercy that belong to man in his materiality are the seven “spiritual works of mercy” that look to man in his spiritual nature:

To instruct the ignorant.

To counsel the doubtful.

To admonish the sinners.

To bear patiently those who wrong us.

To forgive offenses.

To comfort the afflicted.

To pray for the living and the dead.

In many ways, the spiritual works have a far greater importance—as much more as the health of the soul eternally outlasts the health of the body. This is poorly understood today, when materialism has subtly infected even the mentality of Christians and prompted them to take more notice and care of bodily needs than of the hunger for truth, without the possession of which man will starve in hell forever. Think of how so many funerals today are conducted as preliminary canonizations, where we rejoice in the eternal rest of the deceased and reassure one another, in cheerful American fashion, that it’s all good. In no way is the modern Catholic funeral helping Christians to exercise the merciful work of praying and offering up sacrifices for the repose of the dead, whose fate is usually far from clear. As for “admonishing sinners,” we only see that attempted nowadays when Pope Francis decides to sink his teeth into a new vague category of people who exhibit whatever bizarre mixture of character traits he has extracted from the Gospel of the day.

On Judgment Day, we will be judged on these works of corporal and spiritual mercy—and as Scripture assures us, the more mighty, those who are responsible for the welfare of more people, will be judged more severely. What does that mean for Justice Kennedy, who has placed his personal signature on an entire culture of relativism, or for Nancy Pelosi, who has the blood of millions of children crying out from the earth to heaven, as the blood of Abel cried out? You and I, too, may not be Kennedys or Pelosis, but we have our fair share of sins of commission and omission, where we acted contrary to the works of mercy, or failed to perform some that we we might have done.

As with other familiar Scripture passages, we can think that we have totally understood the message of Matthew 25, without realizing that it includes far more than first meets the eye.

As we approach the eleventh anniversary of the promulgation of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, I can’t help thinking of a re-reading that extends beyond the old catechisms. A fresh look at verses 42–45 against the backdrop of the contemporary Church suggests a major area of examination and reproof that will be spoken to many ecclesiastical shepherds as they go before the tribunal of the Good Shepherd.

I was hungry for reverent divine worship, I was starved for the sacred, I was desperate for a Latin Mass in my area—and you gave me not to eat.

I was thirsty for the beauty and solemnity of the Mass, famished for the dignity of the sacraments, and you gave me not to drink.

I was a stranger in my own parish and diocese, wandering, looking for the Church’s traditional liturgy, that nurse of saints and fountain of holiness, and you took me not in. You wanted to have nothing to do with me or those like me.

I was naked, left uncatechized, exposed to evil books and films, and you covered me not, you spared me not, you protected me not. Your “Safe Environment” programs, your whole bureaucratic machinery, shielded perverts and their patrons, and I was abused.

I was sick and in prison, sick of heresy and constant compromise with secular relativism, in the prison of late modernity with its claustrophobic ceiling and windowless walls, and you did not visit me. You acted as if the sickness were no big deal and the prison a permanent home. You did not even try to see the problem or find its solution. And all around you and within you was the witness of two thousand years of Catholic tradition, waiting to be rediscovered, reapplied to my wounds, and detonated under my confinement. You could have freed me, but you preferred me to be walled up, sealed away, neutralized.

Then they also shall answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee?

Then he shall answer them, saying: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it not to one of these least of the People of God, neither did you do it to me.

And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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One Response to I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIEND, JESUS CHRIST

  1. hellenback7 says:

    Thank you and Peter K. for this very timely and important post.

    I can only hope that my prayers contribute ome some small way to the alleviation of suffering for those who have few to pray for them (or can no longer pray for themselves).

    While on a fixed government senior’s pension, I still feel I should give more in a material way but balk due to being unsure of how any small donation will be spent. I also try to refrain from spending anything on non-essential items as my (our) true needs are much fewer than most believe. By saving a bit I hope to be better able to give in response to The Holy Spirit’s prompting and guidance (I could use a good spiritual director or confessor 😉
    It’s very difficult for me to know what Our Lord wants of me in my rather debilitated retirement years. I can only hope and pray that He will make it clear to me where I am neglecting Him so that I can better demonstrate my gratitude for the Love and Mercy He has shown me.

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