Works Of Mercy Can Encompass Many Endeavors
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” — Anne Frank Recently, I watched a 2015 World War II war-drama film called “Little Boy,” which was directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde. Although the reviewers panned it, I saw a message of indescribable love. This love was so strong that I knew the 18-year-olds in my first-year seminar class had to see it. I felt that if a 7-year-old boy was willing to perform “works of mercy” as described in the film to bring back his father from World War II then these 18-year-old young men and women might commit themselves to works of mercy here in Scranton. I had to ponder this question for myself. More questions arose as I started to reflect on our graduate and undergraduate students in the health science fields who work firsthand on the intricacies of the human body in the gross anatomy lab at the University of Scranton. Immediately, I was directed to a poem by Amy Marie Milikan published in the New England Journal of Medicine: “My feet, with the knowledge of yours, will walk into the future carrying you with me. My hands, as they reach out to comfort and heal, will do so never forgetting the delicacy of yours. My eyes, as they sweep across the landscapes of my future, will find in it reflections of the world I saw as yours.” Would these new students in health care hear the call for the works of mercy? Would they bury the dead or visit the sick? I dug deeper. St. Joseph of Arimathea, according to the book of Matthew 27:57-60, asked Pontius Pilate for permission to take Jesus’ dead body down to prepare for burial. In fact, today we have the St. Joseph Arimathea Society all over the United States committed to assisting in the corporal works of mercy and the burial of the dead. Students at Scranton Preparatory School serve as pallbearers, offer Scripture readings and prayers at funeral services for our indigent people and those who die alone. I asked the students why they take time out of their very busy lives and without hesitation they told me that they love to serve — without question. So, what are corporal works of mercy? I think nothing sums it up better than Jesus himself: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. . . Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40) The seventh corporal work of mercy, burying the dead, is referenced more than once in the book of Tobit. More than ever, I wanted to go back to these 18-year-olds and have them discern whether it is still possible today to perform works of mercy. More important, are we doing it? I went back to the first-year seminar class and posed the question. Immediately, two students responded that the Blessing of the Book Drive — one of our college’s many philanthropic events — helped to feed the hungry. I pushed further and they responded that literacy helps feed the hungry. They kept coming up with many services they knew inherently were works of mercy. I realized then that if we stop at just food and drink than we are not digging deeper in our understanding of service. The students understood, though, and they have started their pathway to be servant leaders. As I watch the migration path of 5,000 people toward the Mexican border, I cannot help but reflect on the works of mercy. Do we feed the hungry and provide drink for the thirsty or have we become such slaves to a politicized climate that Jesus’ words are meaningless and the only thing that matters is partisan propaganda? In a world becoming so divisive, we must as a society realize that the key to a happy life is to be grateful and perform works of mercy. The answer lies with following the advice of our young people and more importantly, that of Jesus: Love one another.