Dirty Hands, Happy Heart

I have to admit that some of the corporal works of mercy mentioned in Matthew Chapter 25, verses 35 and 36 have stuck in my mind for a long time. "For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me." So much so that I was determined to be on the lookout for opportunities to do them for Jesus.

I am a hands-on sort of guy. I think more about helping those who are sick, hungry, in prison, etc. when I have personal experience myself of them. Perhaps this is why the rich have such a difficult time entering the Kingdom of Heaven. One person I know told me how hard it was for him to think of the needy when he was so well off himself! We need to get our hands dirty, as the saying goes.

Recently I read an article by the world famous bicyclist Lance Armstrong and how he is obsessed above everything else with cancer awareness. Why? Because he himself had gone through this experience. Or let’s take the action movie actress Angelina Jolie who has given one-third of her income to help the starving in Africa. Again why? Because she had personally gotten involved.

Of the various works of mercy mentioned by Our Lord, I must admit visiting prisoners was the most unnerving for me. Now I know you are thinking that was because of the prisoners. Well, you are wrong. They were never a problem. It was the loud clang made by the many prison iron bar doors as I went through them that made me think I might never get out! Before walking into a prison, I had not the slightest idea what being in one was like. Even in the United States, prisons are not the Ritz Carlton. Jesus told us to visit Him in these prisoners. And I found they do hunger for such visits. I don't know how many of the prisoners were Catholic who came to our service, but they sure filled the room for it! And plenty of prison conversions do take place.

Hospitals, nursing homes, etc. are other places where "Jesus" is looking for us to visit Him. How many people are suffering alone! We do not have enough priests and religious to visit everyone. How many people long to see someone from their parish visit them! I have met homebound elderly who would attend Sunday Mass if only someone would drive them. Extraordinary Ministers of the Holy Eucharist are a great help to these people and their caregivers. As an extraordinary minister of the Holy Eucharist, I used to go with a group from our parish every Sunday to the local hospital. Not only were those who were Catholic happy to see us, but even non-Catholics would beg us to at least pray with them! Recently I was staying with a person in the hospital and I was so happy to be able to receive Holy Communion when the Extraordinary Minister showed up. I wish every hospital had an Extraordinary Minister of the Holy Eucharist show up daily.

Most parishes have some involvement in the traditional seven corporal works of mercy – feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and burying the dead. And the seven spiritual works of mercy – admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful and praying for the living and the dead. (Two others are bearing wrongs patiently and forgiving all injuries.) I became involved in these ministries through my local parish. Certainly parishes have a great need for people to get involved in these ministries. Consider getting involved as I did. Perhaps even getting the whole family involved, children included. Not only will you get to know other parishioners better, but you will be getting that hands-on experience that I believe is so necessary. And I guarantee that you will meet Jesus as I did in these people and situations. It can be very easy to just drop money in the parish basket. You give much more when you give of yourself. So roll up those sleeves. It’s time to get down and dirty!

Brother John Raymond, co-founder of The Community of The Monks of Adoration, received his M.A. in theology from Holy Apostles Seminary.