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: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.