Living the spiritual works of mercy as a family

Melissa Keating

Americans spend quite a bit of time with their extended families. This makes it a perfect time to practice the spiritual works of mercy. Father Luis Granados, is an associate professor at St. John Vianney Seminary, and a member of the Disciples of the Heart of Jesus and Mary, the order that runs St. Mary’s Parish in Littleton, gave us some practical tips.

Praying for the living and the dead

Father Granados recommended the family gather and pray for all those who have died during the year, espcially members of their own family.

“There can be a moment when you gather and you realize who is missing. That’s a beautiful time to offer Masses for the dead,” Father Granados said.

Comfort the afflicted

“The afflicted during Christmas are the lonely. They don’t have anyone to celebrate with. It would be great if the family invites the lonely to their home,” Father Granados said. “Go to a nursing home. Bring some joy to those who are alone and elderly.”

Willingly forgive offenses

It can be easy to try and save this for big hurts, but it can be just as important during the little offenses that crop up whenever a bunch of people with blood ties spend several days in a house together.

“The family is together, which is great, but it can also awaken all those past offenses,” Father Granados said. “Christmas is the day of forgiveness because it was the moment when Mercy came into the world. So pray for that person, and pray that you may forgive.”

He also said that one may feel hurt by the other person for a long time, but the grace comes in choosing to forgive.

“Forgiveness is a path. The ‘willingly’ is the point. It’s saying you want to forgive,” Father Granados said.

To bear wrongs patiently

Again, while being around family is a beautiful thing, there can be many little (or even big) moments in which one feels wronged. Father Granados recommends frequently turning to Jesus and Mary, and to say small prayers to them, especially during the first flash of anger.

“Invoke the name of Jesus… Say simple prayers like ‘Jesus, remember me’ or ‘Jesus, help me be patient’,” Father Granados said.

Admonish sinners

Father Granados warned about misunderstanding this work of mercy, which should be seen as fraternal correction, with an emphasis on fraternal.

The thing to with family is that you are playing a long game. Instead of trying to correct everything that a fallen-away family member has done, try listening to them. Build the relationship. Then, Father Granados recommends inviting them to come to Confession with you.

“I think it’s more fruitful to go together,” Father Granados said. “In this case you’re not just admonishing, but inviting.”

Counsel the doubtful

Again, this one can be easy to misunderstand. Father Granados recommends not lecturing family members on aspects of the faith they may not understand or not be practicing, but to instead spend time together and open a space for dialogue, and especially the questions they have.

“Build the relationship and open a space. Jesus really listened and focused on what [people] were saying. Then after all that, he counseled,” Father Granados said.

Instructing the ignorant

Father Granados said that it is ultimately the parent’s job to make sure children understand the importance of Advent. He recommended that parents spend time explaining who is coming at the end of Advent.

He also recommended that the family incorporate a few traditional Advent liturgical year practices. For example, there are traditional hymns, called the “O Antiphons” that can easily be found on Youtube. These songs anticipate Jesus’ arrival and build up to Christmas day, and are a part of evening prayer for every priest and religious during this time in Advent. The first letter of each O Antiphon forms an acrostic, spelling out Ero cras, or, “tomorrow I come”.

“The heart of Mary is preparing this. She is saying all of this. The wisdom who created everything is here,” Father Granados said.

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.