Back in April, I completed my sporadic review of the Corporal Works of Mercy. I hope you found them, if not instructive, then at least not boring. As we are still in the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, I now intend an inspection tour through the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Perhaps because they are more ethereal (spiritual, after all) and less corporeal then the Corporal Works of Mercy, the Spiritual Works are less easily grasped, less referred to, and probably less practiced. Ours is not a particularly spiritual age. What cannot be measured, quantified, labeled and categorized is held either to have no existence, or at least to be of no account. Nonetheless we shall buck this current materialistic outlook and examine the Spiritual Works of Mercy.
The first such work in the traditional list is “Instruct the ignorant”. Perhaps in this politically correct time we could find a more felicitous phrase for this virtuous practice. In any case do not be put off by the name, which is merely a wrapping, but concern yourself with the content of this good work, which is to share the knowledge and insight you have freely received with others for their benefit. After all, Jesus tells us “You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). Even the UT Tower, infamous in its own right, bears witness to this inscription.
How to practice this good work? So often when we try to instruct others we seem to be trying to teach or convince them of something that has importance and meaning to us, but is of little interest to the person we are trying to instruct. This rarely works. Far better is to entice the notice and curiosity of the other by the quality of your life, by the joy and faith that you exhibit. If you look joyful and at peace, people will notice. If they sense in you a peace, a joy, a contentment and a firm faith, they are very likely to want to know what is the cause of it. Is it something you are smoking? Or a pill you are taking? Or some special course in meditation? Once their curiosity is piqued, then is the time to instruct. As St. Peter tells us: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do so with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pt 3:15).
You do not need to go to foreign mission lands to practice this work of mercy. Parents do it with their children, spouses do it with each other, friends do it for each other, RCIA teams and Religious Ed teachers do it with their students, neighbors do it with each other, and co-workers can do it. Every time and every place can be an occasion to instruct. In doing so both parties are blessed, for your own faith grows by witnessing to it, and the faith of the other is instructed. Even if your instruction falls on deaf ears you still benefit from witnessing to your faith. And if the person does listen, and you become a vehicle of the Holy Spirit for another to grow in faith, that is a wonderful blessing for you both.
It is not only the “ignorant” that need instruction. Faith is a deep, deep well. We will certainly never have God figured out in this life, nor indeed for all eternity. To go deeper and deeper into the mystery of Faith expands our hearts, for our hearts expand to hold more and more of the grace of the Holy Spirit. If our faith is small, our heart is small. If our faith is great, our heart will be great. So this is a work of mercy we can practice for all our life long.