Lent 2016: The Corporal Works of Mercy

mercy man 3

Ash Wednesday: “Longing for Mercy” Finger Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC 2016

Join me for a Wednesday Retreat at Sacred Heart Church at 9:00am until 10:30am and then repeated at 6:30pm until 8:00pm. I will be reflecting on the Corporal Works of Mercy. The reflections here were posted with audio versions at the beginning of Lent.

Wednesday Retreat March 2, 2016

Sacred Heart Church

 The Corporal Work of Mercy: Feeding the hungry

Jesus invites us to feed the hungry as he feeds us with his real presence of mercy in the Eucharist. Food is a human need and the right of every human being. Even in our country, many people go hungry each day.

In our parish community, we host a meal on Sunday evenings to which everyone is welcome. Volunteers prepare a healthy meal and serve families in our parish center that arrive from various neighborhoods. Conversations with strangers fill our hearts at these tables. We learn about the real stories of people in need. We hear about the trauma of job loss, inadequate health care and parents struggling to feed their children.

People are more than the labels we put on them. People are hungry not only for food but to be connected to other people. Feeding the hungry also fills our souls. Mercy and miracles happen around those Sunday night tables. Feeding other people is more than about the food; it is about human and spiritual connection. When we sit down at a common table with others and listen to their stories of survival, we understand that feeding the hungry is a form of intimacy that connects every human person.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: To give drink to the thirsty

Every week in our parish community, we offer bags of food to people who have lost their jobs or who are struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes our supplies are depleted and the bags are only half-full. Other times we may even have extra resources such as fresh, cold milk to offer people. Mothers are especially delighted when whole milk is an option to give to their children.

I remember one hot, Sunday evening in August when our parish community served a meal for people who survive poverty. As I walked among tables of homeless families and poured milk for the children, I could not believe their genuine response of appreciation. Their faces lit up when I kept coming back with more milk. I learned again that night that people are thirsty not only for drink, but real connection to other people. Milk that night was a way to connect with families who lacked so many basic necessities.

Jesus changed water into wine at a wedding feast and offered his disciples a sip of wine at the Last Supper. Offering people a glass of cold water, milk or juice is an offering of mercy. We all thirst for respect, dignity and love.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: Clothing the naked

I recently baptized a newborn wrapped in an heirloom garment. The parents told me that the white gown their son was wearing belonged to his great, great grandfather. Even though the flowing gown had yellowed with age, it remained a sign of Christ, clothing generations in forgiveness and mercy. The garment was once again a visual sign of new life, of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

As I held the infant in my arms, I was also reminded that we are clothed in Christ’s mercy throughout our lives. Even at funerals, a white garment covers the casket as a sign of our common baptism.

The spiritual image of being clothed in Christ prepares us to offer clothing to the naked that is essential to our human dignity, such as shoes, pants, underwear and shirts.

Shortly after that baptism, an elderly man approached me on the steps outside of our church. He reeked of urine and his clothes were filthy and they did not keep him warm in the bitter nights outside. He whispered to me his request for some clothing. I found resources for him to shower and to receive warmer, clean clothing.

We are first clothed in Christ Jesus in the dignity of our baptism. Jesus’ mercy changes our attitudes about other people who survive nearly naked in the cold months, who long to be wrapped in the new life that their lives matter in this world.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: To welcome the stranger or to shelter the homeless

Hospitality is an act of mercy. Hospitality is a radical acceptance of another person. Welcoming the stranger is an act of mutual respect, an interaction of hope. The Holy Family searched for a shelter at Jesus’ birth. Every person deserves to be sheltered, protected from the cold and given a place to rest and to be physically and emotionally restored.

I hear people judge homeless people harshly every day. People lash out about why others simply just do not get a job. Some people question why our society should support such people.

My experience teaches me that people are homeless because of the trauma they have faced in life. Veterans suffering from the effects of war wander our streets. Youth beaten down by parents and siblings try to make their way to a better life. People who suffer from years of mental illness or drug addiction simply do not have the emotional stability to keep a job or find a home. Some people, who have been traumatized by sexual violence and abuse as children, may never outgrow their depression and rage and they may never be capable to survive on the streets on their own.

Hospitality creates relationships when we welcome a stranger into our midst to be warmed by connection and respect. Mercy does not judge people or condemn them. Mercy changes our attitudes when we bring the gospel alive by supporting the basic needs and rights of people.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: Visiting the Sick

Every human being faces illness and disease. Bodily weakness, ill health and disabilities are a way of life for all people.

Jesus’ healed the sick and walked with people who were blind, lame and held bound by illness. Jesus not only touched lepers but also broke down the social stigma of disease. Jesus gave hope to people whose bodies were weak and he showed other people that faith so often comes from marginalized, ill people. Visiting the sick, holding the hands of the ill and sitting with people who suffer is a human act of God’s mercy.

Our parish community sends forth people with the host, the Body of Christ from Mass to engage other members of our community who are ill or homebound. These ministers bring the prayer of the parish to the bedsides of so many people who are alone and fearful.

As I present the Eucharist to these ministers after Mass, I send them forth with a prayer in these or similar words, “My dear friends, hasten to the bedsides of those who are fragile and frail, those who are alone in their suffering and those who fear death. Take to our absent sisters and brothers our care and concern and help them remain united to the Body of Christ and to our parish community. In Jesus’ name we pray.”

We find God’s love and merciful compassion when we share the Body with members of the body of Christ who are suffering from all sorts of illnesses.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: Visiting the imprisoned

Visiting a prisoner often builds a connection of freedom for both the person behind bars as well as the visitor. Our American prisons are filled beyond capacity. No matter why a person is in confinement, God works within people’s hearts. A visitor is a real and authentic connection to not only the outside world, but also the inner world of God’s love, forgiveness and mercy.

I recently spoke with a man in prison because he committed a crime of sexual abuse. He is now labeled as a sex offender. I listened to him with my entire soul because in so many ways he has been a prisoner of the abuse that was also perpetrated upon him since his childhood. He too, was abused and he lived with alcoholic and drug addicted parents. His confinement in some ways has been life-long. His prison sentence will never change the label our society puts on him. Yet, he is finding a profound relationship with Jesus, a relationship that is offering him peace, forgiveness and mercy.

Many former prisoners struggle to find a job. Others struggle to stay sober from alcohol or clean of drugs. So many people who have been behind bars long to find healing, mercy and forgiveness whether or not they are guilty or innocent. Visiting a prisoner may become a moment of mercy and freedom for all of us who seek God.

The Corporal Work of Mercy: To bury the dead

 We are called to treat each person with dignity until they are one with Christ Jesus. Burying the dead is an act of mercy since we live in the belief of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Standing at the gravesite of a loved one recalls the dignity of each person and our yearning for our home in heaven.

In our parish community, we attend to the funerals of about forty people during a year. Every family grieves differently and every family’s relationship with their loved one is different.

Some family members do not want the Church to be involved in the funeral. Others depend on faith to get through the pain. Standing at the gravesite is always a graced moment for me, lifting up in prayer the person who has died and standing close to the family who struggle in grief. Death usually teaches us all how to live in the present, how to love in the moment and how to forgive the past.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus received the body of Jesus from the cross. Mary and some of the disciples buried the body of Jesus. When a loved one dies, we all wait at the tomb for the resurrection of Jesus, for our place among the saints in heaven.

“Longing for Mercy”

Prayer by: Ronald Patrick Raab, CSC

O God and Father of Mercy,

You invite us closer into the life of your Son, Jesus the Christ.


Jesus, The Bread of Life, shared food and wisdom with hungry crowds.

Jesus, The Good Shepherd ran after the lost, the leper and the lonely.

Jesus, The Healer, touched the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf.

Jesus, The Master, washed the filth from the feet of his disciples.

Jesus, The Prince of Peace, forgave the repentant thief on the cross.


Father of Love, do not abandon us.

For our lives are tender from our mistakes and misfortunes.

For our hearts are broken from fragile relationships.

For our questions are many about violence and war.


O God of Mercy,

Give us courage to offer compassion.

Show us how to listen patiently to people dissatisfied by sin.

Offer us consolation when we are discouraged by our mortality.

Help us offer water to the thirsty stranger and bread to the homeless family.

Help us hasten to the bedside of the ill child or the aging parent afraid of death.


Loving God,

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy,

Allow your Church to reveal the face of Jesus in our uncertain world.

Give us the joy of serving people in need.

Help us live in hope.

Melt away despair, mend our broken lives and give us peace.

And show us the way to our heavenly home.


We ask this in the name of Jesus, the Christ who lives and reigns forever and ever.







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