Posted by: frroberts | September 26, 2015

Sermon: The Coporal works of mercy

We continue today with part two of our three part series of homilies on mercy. We remember that last week we talked about being open to God’s mercy, particularly in the sacrament of confession. Jesus Christ Himself personally gave the Church this sacrament on the evening of His Resurrection so that all of us would be able to experience his mercy in a tangible way. Today, we to turn to the ways in which God is calling us to be merciful toward others.

Almost one hundred years ago a young man from a very wealthy British Protestant family named Christopher Dawson went off to college. During his studies, he became attracted to the Catholic faith and eventually converted to Catholicism. His parents were not pleased. When Dawson explained to them the deep theological reasons why we believed that the Catholic faith was uniquely true, his mother cut him off and blurted out, “I can understand the bit about the theology. I can see your point there, but think about it, Christopher, from now on you will be worshiping every Sunday with the help.” At that time in Britain most Catholics were poor Irish immigrants.

Christopher Dawson’s mother was on to something. The Catholic Church is not just a Church for a people of a certain ethnicity or even race. Nor is our Church a place only for rich, middle-class, working-class or poor people. We are a universal Church that embraces everyone. It is undeniable that we believe certain dogmas and proclaim a very precise morality, but we embrace everyone.

We have been reminded of this fact by Our Holy Father Pope Francis’ visit to these United States. During his Mass of canonization for Father Junipero Serra, the Spanish priest who was responsible for founding some of the largest cities in the United States today like, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo and so on, Pope Francis pronounced the Mass prayers entirely in Spanish. We are a universal Church.
A universal Church has all types, saints and sinners, rich and poor, and so on. In the epistle for this Sunday’s Mass, Saint James addresses some tough words to those who are rich:

Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.

My brothers and sisters, how can we in Randolph and western Darke counties not hear these words and see that they have a present application? How can we not see the large corporate farms that profit from exploiting the poverty of those living in countries that are south of us by paying undocumented workers who come to this county wages so low that few native-born Americans would take these jobs? How can we not be aware that even some private family farmers, at least a few of whom belong to the Catholic Church, do something similar? How we help but ask ourselves what type of judgment awaits those who have become rich by paying those who work in their fields unjust wages? As we have already heard, Saint James gives us a very clear answer.

There are many poor among us in western Darke and Randolph counties. And they are not only Hispanics who have come here from other countries.

God calls us to respond to the misery of our brothers and sisters who are suffering in their body with compassion. The Church specifies seven ways of responding to the physical needs of our neighbor, most of which come directly from Our Lord’s own words in the 25th chapter of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. They are called the corporal works of mercy. They are (1) feeding the hungry, (2) giving drink to the thirsty, (3) clothing the naked, (4) sheltering the homeless, (5) visiting the sick, (6) visiting the imprisoned and (7) burying the dead. As someone whose job involves doing all seven of these corporal works of mercy on a regular basis, I can say that there will almost be plenty of opportunities. I can also say that many here in this church practice the seven corporal works of mercy regularly.

Feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty: On every third Sunday of the month at Saint Joseph, the entire loose collection goes to feed the poor. When people who are poor come to the rectory asking for help, we always try to get them something to eat. In addition, both parishes regularly help to distribute free food. At Saint Mary, we are looking at increasing our budget for assistance to the poor in the coming year.

Clothing the naked: Last Advent the Knights of the Holy Temple had a very successful coat drive. When I drop off clothing at the HELP center in Union City, I see a parishioner or two there.

Sheltering the homeless: We give financial assistance to the poor at the rectory that often involves helping pay bills in order for people remain in their housing. I have heard of instances of parishioners helping out with people’s rent. It would not surprise me to hear of instances of parishioners actually taking people without housing into their homes.

Visiting the sick and imprisoned: Our parishes currently serve no less than twenty-six shut-ins by visiting them. When notified by a parishioner that he is in a hospital that is reasonably close, he will get a visit if at all possible. I know of at least one parishioner who ministers in the jail. When parishioners put me on their visitor list, I am happy to visit them in jail. Remember that next time you end up behind bars!

Burying the dead: I have been very impressed with the way that both parishes in our parish cluster respond to the death of someone in our parish family. Attendance at funerals is generally high, often higher than attendance at a Sunday Mass. Volunteers are quick to step forward to help with funeral dinners.

Although we are already seeking to put into practice the corporal works of mercy, we can always do more. The corporal works of mercy are a powerful way to put our faith into practice and a way for us to become more Catholic, more universal, in our Christianity. Our Catholic Church is not just a Church for middle-class white people. Our Church is for everyone. And we thank God for that.


  1. Excellent sermon father. Thank you.


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