Category Archives: Year of Mercy

Practical Ways to Do the Seven Works of Mercy During Lent

In my last blog, I proposed the idea of spending more time at leisure this Lent in order to contemplate God’s beauty. In this blog, I would like to suggest another idea that is complementary. Contemplation of God leads to action, so let your contemplation of His Beauty lead to communication of His Beauty. The Corporal Works of Mercy are excellent ways to transmit the beauty of God’s love to others.

Below are some practical ways to carry out the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy within the context of your ordinary daily life.  Many days, you may be able to do nothing more than say a prayer for those in need of a particular Work of Mercy, but don’t underestimate the power of your prayer, and remember that just the fact that you took the time to think and pray for those in need is itself something meritorious.

I suggest assigning a particular Work of Mercy to each day of the week, as I do below. Each day, strive to be generous, but do what you realistically fits within your particular state of life.

Feed the hungry (Mondays)

  • Prepare an extra nice meal for your family or friends.
  • Make a donation to a charity that feeds the poor (like Food for the Poor).
  • Bring a food donation to your local soup kitchen.
  • Say a special prayer for those suffering from hunger.

Give drink to the thirsty (Tuesdays)

  • Make a donation to help those in a drought-stricken area. (Catholic Relief Services has some exceptional programs to help alleviate the water needs of the poor in Ethiopia.)
  • Offer to bring a drink to a family member. (Remember what Christ said, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.” – Matthew 10:42)
  • Say a special prayer for rain for those suffering from drought.

Clothe the naked (Wednesdays)

  • If you are a parent, take the time to go clothes shopping for your children.
  • Gather up old clothes in your house and give them to Goodwill or Salvation Army or some other charity.
  • Say a special prayer for the poor in need of good clothing.

Shelter the homeless (Thursdays)

  • Do something to improve your home for your family. (Organize a messy closet, clean a room, or fix something that has been needing it for a while.)
  • Volunteer at or make a donation to your local homeless shelter.
  • Say a special prayer for a homeless person whom you have seen recently.

Care for the sick (Fridays)

  • Visit a sick loved one or friend.
  • Call an elderly family member family or friend to check up on him.
  • Volunteer some time at a local nursing home.
  • Pray for someone you know who is struggling with a serious illness.

Visit the imprisoned (Saturdays)

  • Consider volunteering in some way to help prisoners. (Prison Fellowship has opportunities to volunteer on its website.)
  • Pray for someone you know or heard about who has recently been imprisoned.

Bury the dead (Sundays)

  • Make a stop at your local cemetery to pray for the repose of the souls of the people buried there.
  • Leave flowers at the grave of a family member or friend.

If you are consistent in trying to do something each day this Lent, no matter how small, you will experience in a new way the joy of living these words of Our Lord:

“Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” – Matthew 25:40

 

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The Nativity of Mercy: A Must-See Masterpiece

When Pope Francis celebrated mass at Madison Square Garden in September, he reminded New Yorkers that God dwells in their city, no matter how much “smog” it may have. Cities can be dirty places, both literally and spiritually, but this fact does not keep away God’s infinite love.

Building upon Pope Francis’ proclamation of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood in New York City has displayed a nativity scene like no other. On Monday, I went to see it and spent almost an hour admiring its many artistic and theological details.

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Photo by Bill Egbert

The Nativity of Mercy is a creation of the Scuotto brothers whose workshop specializes in making colorful and dramatic creches (or presepi as they are known in Italian). This particular presepio draws from Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy, and the Neapolitan presepio tradition.

Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, is the most famous artistic rendering of that great parable of mercy. With the timeless fable and with his entire life, Christ communicated the lavish and overwhelming mercy of God the Father. The presence of figurines inspired by Rembrandt’s masterpiece reminds us that Christ’s becoming man is the Heavenly Father’s embrace of all of destitute humanity.

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The sculptors of the The Nativity of Mercy had the advantage of studying Caravaggio’s Seven Works of Mercy in-person. Located in the Neapolitan church of Pio Monte della Misericordia, it is a product of one of the artist’s sojourns in the Italian port city. It depicts all of the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, caring for the sick, visiting the imprisoned, and burying the dead. The brothers Scuotto draw heavily from the Caravaggio, while adding details of their own.

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Scenes from Caravaggio’s “Seven Acts of Mercy”: A man gives his cloak to a poor person, a woman visits and feeds a prisoner, and another man welcomes a homeless person in the background. (Photo by Bill Egbert)
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Welcoming strangers

The beauty of Neapolitan presepi is that they colorfully show the drama of the Incarnation and the paradox of the coming to Earth of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Instead of an isolated and peaceful stable, the Christ Child is inserted into the midst of a bustling urban scene full of human  life, activity, and even depravity. The Nativity of Mercy shows gritty scenes of sin: hot-blooded bravos fight in a tavern, a drunkard lolls in inebriation, and a glutton gorges himself with pasta while ignoring a famished beggar.

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When Our Lord came to Earth, he did not remain in a bubble of heavenly purity. Rather, he fully entered our reality in all of its banality and profanity. From the moment of his birth in a smelly stable to his death on a cross, Christ did not shrink from the full human experience. Even though he was sinless himself, he lived in the midst of sinful humanity and was affected by it. The Nativity of Mercy wonderfully communicates this truly awesome reality of the Incarnation that remains just as beautiful and astounding two millennia later: despite man’s sinfulness, Heaven has stooped to Earth, the sacred has intermingled with the profane, and God is now man.

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Photo by Bill Egbert

The Nativity of Mercy is a powerful reminder for all of us that God is not afraid of our “smog”: on the contrary, he eagerly enters into it in order to be closer to his beloved children.


Click here for more information on The Nativity of Mercy. For those in New York, I highly suggest going to see it at the Shrine Church of the Most Precious Blood on Baxter Street near Canal Street. It is well worth the visit!

Five Things You Should Know about the Year of Mercy

Today is the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy proclaimed by Pope Francis. Here is what you need to know about it.

What a jubilee year is.

The custom of celebrating jubilee years is an ancient one that dates backs to the Old Testament. Leviticus 25:10 prescribed that the Hebrews “shalt sanctify the fiftieth year and shalt proclaim remission to all the inhabitants of thy land: for it is the year of jubilee.” The jubilee year was a time of restoration and forgiveness during which every household was to recover its absent members, land was to be returned to its former owners, Hebrew slaves were to be set free, and debts were to be remitted.

The Catholic Church continued this tradition of restoration and forgiveness in a more spiritualized manner. Although prior jubilees existed in various forms, Pope Boniface VIII was the first pontiff to formally declare a jubilee year in 1300, granting “great remissions and indulgences for sins” obtained “by visiting the city of Rome and the venerable basilica of the Prince of the Apostles.” He stated that the jubilee would take place every 100 years.

Since Pope Boniface, jubilee years have become more frequent and more generous. Subsequent popes lessened the time between jubilees to 25 years, taking into account the average human lifespan. They also made it easier to obtain indulgences by allowing the faithful to make pilgrimages to churches and shrines in their own countries as opposed to trekking all the way to Rome. The last ordinary jubilee year took place under Pope John Paul II in 2000.

All jubilee years are special, but this one is extra special.

Popes also have the power to announce extraordinary jubilees, a privilege they have used on 65 occasions. Numerous popes have declared extraordinary jubilees to mark special anniversaries, as Pope John Paul II did in 1983 to celebrate the 1,950th anniversary of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Other popes announced extraordinary jubilees because they discerned the Church was in need of a special outpouring of graces, as Pope Leo XIII did in 1885.

This extraordinary jubilee has been announced because Pope Francis has discerned the Church is in need of of a deep and sustained reflection on divine mercy. He has seen that the Church needs to renew her awareness of God’s infinite mercy and of her mission to communicate it to the world.

Mercy is a special theme for Pope Francis.

When Pope Francis was a young man, he had a powerful experience of God’s mercy in a moment of prayer that led to his pursuing the priesthood. His personal spiritual life has been marked by a profound awareness of his status as a sinner who is dependent upon divine mercy. When asked in an interview “Who is Jorge Bergoglio?” his response was “I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.”

His episcopal motto is taken from a sermon by St. Bede on Christ’s calling of the tax collector Matthew: Miserando atque eligendo, which can be roughly translated as “Looking at him with mercy and choosing him.”

His entire pontificate has been characterized by a special desire to “go to the periphery” (using his words) and reaching out to the marginalized. From the beginning, he has gone out of his way to make it very clear that no one is beyond God’s mercy. I can personally attest from my time in Rome that he always became very emotional when inviting his audience to approach God without fear and with great trust in his mercy.

The Holy Doors.

The jubilee officially begins with the opening of the Holy Doors of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome on Tuesday, December 8th. The Holy Doors are only opened during jubilee years and remained sealed the rest of the time. The Holy Doors will remain open until the Solemnity of Christ the King November 20, 2016.

The Sunday after the opening of the Basilica’s Holy Doors, December 13th, all Holy Doors throughout the world will be opened. Every diocese’s cathedral will have Holy Doors, as will local shrines designated by the bishop.

All pilgrims who walk through the Holy Doors are granted a special indulgence (the remission of temporal punishment for sins) by fulfilling the following conditions:

  • Having an interior disposition of complete detachment from sin.
  • Going to confession within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
  • Receiving the Holy Eucharist within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors.
  • Praying for the intentions of the Pope within twenty days of walking through the Holy Doors

Planning a pilgrimage.

A great way to take advantage of this Year of Mercy is to make a pilgrimage to a church with designated Holy Doors (which are also being referred to this year as Doors of Mercy). A pilgrimage is more than just a trip to a shrine – it is a profound spiritual journey. As a pilgrim, one willingly makes the sacrifice of time, resources, and comfort in order to approach God in humility and ask for His grace. A pilgrimage during this jubilee year should have the added emphasis of approaching God to receive His ever-available mercy and forgiveness.

I highly recommend a pilgrimage to Rome for those who can make it. For information on major events during the Year of Mercy and on how to register as a pilgrim, click here.

If you cannot make it to Rome, you can make a pilgrimage to somewhere that is more easily accessible. As mentioned above, every diocesan cathedral will have Doors of Mercy. To find out locations of Doors of Mercy click here. You can also contact your diocese’s chancery or visit your diocesan web site find out which churches besides your cathedral will have Holy Doors.

All Holy Doors, besides those of St. Peter’s Basilica, will be opened on Sunday, December 13th, and they will be closed on Sunday, November 13, 2016.


To learn more about the Year of Mercy, visit the official Vatican web site. Also, feel free to ask questions in the comments below or contact me through the “Contact Eric” link on this blog.

I wish you all a holy and blessed Jubilee Year. God bless!