Pope Francis has said that this Extraordinary Jubilee Year is “dedicated to living out in our daily lives the mercy which the Father constantly extends to all of us.” As we near the end of this Jubilee Year, we will periodically share reflections from School Sisters of Notre Dame on Pope Francis’ message, how they rediscovered the works of mercy and how they practice these works of mercy, working them into their everyday lives.
Reflections on works of mercy
I was in the third grade when I first learned about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy from Sister Mary Bethel, BVM. She exemplified the works of mercy as a classroom teacher.
I attended a downtown Catholic school on the banks of the Mississippi River. I was a child of the Depression. By the third grade, we were plunged into the struggles of World War II. Our families were separated and stressed in many ways by the war effort.
Sister Bethel sensed our losses and fears. She had a way of listening and instructing that made us feel safe and joyful. She knew the value of integrating our religion classes with music, art and folktales. Her classes were filled with stories of kind people. Sister Bethel is one of my treasured childhood memories, a simple model in living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
Expression of giving and serving
After a long life of striving to be generous and hospitable in the spirit of the works of mercy, I discovered another secret about my own expression of giving and serving. For me there is a certain personal satisfaction that results from exercising the corporal works of mercy.
It is difficult to not expect a reward for one’s good deeds. Usually we realize some personal satisfaction when we feed the poor, etc. With the spiritual works of mercy, there are intangible results that are between God and the person served. One seldom knows or lives long enough to learn how it all turns out.
What strikes me now is that both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy depend on the last two spiritual works of mercy that call us “to forgive offenses and bear patiently those who do us ill.” I do not pretend to endure offenses or find myself ill-treated.
However, on behalf of so many in this world who do suffer gravely and have so much to forgive, I resolve this year of mercy to be mindful of the need for mercy. In my every day, ordinary relationships, I renew my efforts to do ordinary things for the people I meet in extraordinary ways, much like Sister Bethel did when I was in the third grade.
By Sister Mary Alyce Lach, SSND