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: Healing hatred and anger after Charlottesville

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The confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the nationwide reaction to it are clear signs of the tensions simmering just below the surface of our society. But we know as people of faith that these wounds can be healed if we follow Christ’s example, rather than the path of revenge.

It was with a heavy heart that I learned about the Aug. 12 clashes between white supremacists and counter protesters in Charlottesville that resulted in the injury of around 34 people and the death of Heather Heyer. It was an “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” melee.

These events remind me of Pope Francis’ 2017 World Day of Peace message, in which he pointed out that “Jesus himself lived in violent times. Yet he taught that the true battlefield, where violence and peace meet, is the human heart: for ‘it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come’ (Mk. 7:21).”

What we witnessed in Charlottesville was an outward expression of hundreds of hearts, and as a shepherd of souls, I cannot stand by silently while people allow hatred toward others rule their hearts. Particularly reprehensible were the derogatory words the neo-Nazis and their white supremacist allies shouted toward African Americans, Jews and Latinos. This is not how God sees his children!

Every human being is bestowed from the moment of conception with the dignity of being made in the image and likeness of God, and we are all loved by him, even amid our sin and brokenness. Satan seeks every opportunity to twist these fundamental truths in the hearts of human beings and we can see the devastation it brings throughout history.

It can be tempting to respond to these attacks on our fellow man with violence, just as the members of the Anti-fascist movement (known as “Antifa”) did in Charlottesville. But this is not what Christ taught, since it allows hatred to gain a foothold through a different avenue. It is worth repeating: the human heart is the true battlefield.

Jesus’ response to violence and persecution stands in contrast with the way of hatred and anger. Instead, he taught his disciples to love their enemies (Mt. 5:44) and to turn the other cheek (Mt. 5:39). Christ’s radical answer is only possible because God unconditionally loves every person and is ready to forgive us when we repent. God’s love is the only thing that can cut through the hatred that is bringing people to blows, heal the human heart and form it after his own. As people of faith, we are called to bring the truth of love to these festering wounds so that hearts may be healed by Christ.

Joseph Pearce, the Catholic convert and former white supremacist, is a perfect example of this. In a recent article for the National Catholic Register, he recalls how it was his encounter with the objective truths of the faith that demolished his race-centered identity and seeing his enemies love him when he confronted them with hatred that changed his heart. We must pray for the grace to love as Jesus loves, to love as the Father loves.

“The way out of this deadly spiral,” Pearce says, “is to go beyond the love of neighbor, as necessary as that is, and to begin to love our enemies. This is not simply good for us, freeing us from the bondage of hatred; it is good for our enemies also.”

May all of us follow the great example of Mark Heyer, the father of the woman who was killed after the white supremacist rally. His daughter’s death, Heyer told USA Today, made him think “about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.’”

Jesus desires that every person have a heart that is whole and free from hatred, anger and pride. He desires to form our hearts, and that only comes about when we are receptive to his unconditional love, for only in receiving his unconditional love will we be able to give it to others. I pray that all the faithful will be instruments of healing for our country by bringing Christ’s forgiveness to their neighbors and their enemies.