Pope Francis made a bizarre statement awhile back that is still having repercussions. He said something to the effect that we need to speak less on issues like homosexuality, contraception and abortion. Rather, we are to go out and live the Gospel in the world.
I was giving instruction on a privet blog site the other day and I was told that we need to drop the issue and to go out and live the Gospel as the Pope has said. The person did not like the results of the discussion and accused us of being too academic and pragmatic, and that we were somehow not living the spirit of the Gospel. I am sure that St. Thomas Aquinas would love to hear that his works, the greatest works in the Church (except for the bible) are somehow not in the spirit of the Gospel.
Let us understand what they mean when they say to “go out and live the Gospel in the world.” They are limiting this statement. Weather they are doing so out of ignorance or out of malice, depends on the person, there are some on both sides of this fence as to this issue. In either case, They think that it means to go out and feed the hungry, clothe the naked, kiss the babies and wipe the butt of the infirmed. The good news is that they are right. It does mean this. But it means so much more.
I guess, before I go any further, I have to justify myself for writing this article. I am currently cloistered in my office with no poor or suffering people around me. That – and I am focused on sterile, lifeless teaching here and not on helping people in their stiffs in life. How dare I teach when people are suffering? Why do I not go out and live the Gospel as the Pope has said? My understanding is that one of the teachings in the Gospel is that I am to go out and teach all nations. Note that I say that it is only one thing of many things mentioned. It also says to care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger. It says to love my neighbor as myself. It says to keep the commandments. It says to get holy. Yes the Bible says many things and we cannot live some to the neglect of others. But most of all and the sum of all the Bible says to have Charity. It is the sum and greatest of all the virtues. Even should I help the poor and have not Charity (love) I am but a noisy gong, a clanging symbol, with out life and without merit. In light of this I now continue my going out and teaching all nations. (Keep in mind that I have appointments latter today with real live people experiencing real strife in their life. I plan on helping them too.)
I believe an easy way to understand what I want to teach today is to look at two categories of action as defined by the Church they are the corporal works of mercy and the spiritual works of mercy. They are:
Corporal Works of Mercy
- Feed the hungry
- Give drink to the thirsty
- Clothe the naked
- Shelter the homeless
- Visit the sick
- Visit the imprisoned
- Bury the Dead
Spiritual Works of Mercy
- Admonish the sinner
- Instruct the ignorant
- Counsel the doubtful
- Comfort the sorrowful
- Bear wrongs patiently
- Forgive all injuries
- Pray for the living and the dead
This aggregate of actions is the sum of living the Gospel if they are all wrapped up and founded in a solid foundation of the Theological Virtue called Charity.
We need to note that not all action is equal. Some actions are more important than others. That is the reason for two categories of works of mercy, the corporal and the spiritual. In fact, the Church teaches (instructing the ignorant, a Gospel value as we have seen) that the spiritual works are of a grater secular and spiritual value than are the corporal works. Even the secular world understands this. The world has the saying “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” That is to say to help a man in his immediate need for food is good, so you give him a fish. If all you do is give the man a fish, he becomes a slave to you (and the democratic party?), not a free man. He will depend on you to eat. Rather, if we teach him to fish, he becomes independent and free. He can now feed himself. This sense of independence is good and is also a Gospel value. Each man should, to the degree he is able, take care of his own needs. We could discuss at this time the merit of the Gospel value to let him who does not work not eat. But I will not digress here.
In the spiritual understanding of the difference, we look at it this way. We can feed the body all we want, but if we do not feed the soul we will die a death far worse than the death of a body. Save the body and lose the soul is not a Gospel value. But to lose the body and save the soul is. WHAT?????!!!!!!! How dare I even suggest that we let a person die of starvation? I am not. It is important to save the body to a certain point. But it is always of most importance to save the soul. If a man is suffering on his deathbed, do I take the time to comfort his pain, or do I focus on his final repentance and conversion? Hurt as he may, I am going to work on his soul.
As to a person not on a deathbed, but is alive and suffering in different ways. Now we try to help them with immediate relief, but then we work on the spiritual as well, even at the same time.
Look at the Salvation Army. It is my understanding that they help many hungry and shelterless people everyday. But it is my understanding that before you get your “hot and a cot” (food and bed) you first must listen to them preach the Gospel to you. They have it right. Give them the message and then help with their immediate needs. Priorities are priorities and I do not fault them for doing it this way. Even the example of Jesus in the Gospels speak to this. Jesus taught the people all day, the people were starving, at the point of exhaustion then Jesus feeds the multitudes.
I know that some will and are saying but that is not fair. What if the man does not believe in God and does not want to listen to their preaching? Then the sad fact is the man is already dead. That seems cold and heartless. Hay, don’t shoot the messenger, I am just instructing the ignorant. You know I did not mean it in its literal sense. Of corse we still try to help the man. But we do so with the intention to bring him to Faith. That by our good works to him in the name of Christ, he may finally see through his darkness and see the light of truth that is God. To feed him for the sake of feeding him alone does him no good and offers him no true healing or comfort.
So now we see the hierarchy of values when it comes to action. Salvation of souls is always the first act of the Church after giving Glory to God. Why? Because that is the most Charitable (loving) thing She can do. The immediate bodily needs are important, but less important than saving the soul. The one is done for the other and not the other way around. When it comes to the spiritual life, if any worldly thing should get in the way, we are to leave it behind like Jesus telling the man to let the dead bury the dead. This shows that even the corporal work of mercy of bury the dead is to not be fulfilled if it should take one off the journey of holiness. Scripture even places limits or conditions on helping people, let those who do not work not eat. If they are not willing to help themselves, then we are not obligated even by the corporal works of mercy to help them either.
With this in mind, I will keep on living ALL the virtuous Gospel actions, but the spiritual ones first. I will keep on preaching and teaching on issues like homosexuality, contraception and abortion. I will instruct the ignorant and admonish the sinner. Two things the world hates and tells us to stop. After all “who am I to judge,” or who am I to impose my ideology on others? Part of living the spiritual works of mercy is to not impose my ideology on others. I impose God’s will, not mine.
The world rejects God’s will. They then impose their own ideologies of secularism, hedonism, utilitarianism, fascism, socialism, and many others on us. They believe that they are instructing the ignorant too. To be silent is to let them win. To be silent is to let God lose. If we let God lose, we lose. Nope – I am not happy with that conclusion. So I will fight the good fight. I will put on the full armor of God. As iron sharpens iron I will meet sword to sword with the world, knowing that I have the Excalibur of swords. I have the sword of truth, the sword of justice, the sword of God almighty in my hand. I will wield it with love of God and neighbor. I will wield it with mercy (spiritual and corporal) that it may penetrate the stony hearts that have no life. I will wield it to cut out the cancer of pride, ignorance, doubt, and sorrow. I will wield it to restore justice through patience and forgiveness. But fight not, I will not do. For my own body may suffer much in this world and even at the hand of this world, I know that spiritually I am alive and well for I live to live the Gospel in the world as I come to know Him, Love Him and Serve Him. I do this in prayer for myself, the world, the living and the dead as we are all called to the high and demanding standard of Christian Perfection.
Come join me in this great adventure called Faith! All I can promise you is life, joy and happiness for all eternity. Sorry I cannot promise more than that J
As to the Pope’s comment, I have this serious question. He says go out and live the Gospel, but not to teach certain things so much… How does kissing a baby save souls if we do not teach the value of life and the sin of contraception and abortion? How does washing the feet of aids patients save souls if they are not taught the wrongness of their actions that led to their condition that they may repent (assumptions made here, I know)? They need to be instructed and counseled. The world needs to be instructed and counseled and that means we need to judge with the mind and the will of God. I understand that the Pope wants to be the man of the people (congratulations, he is the man of the year), but I need him, I need me, I need you to be men and women of God and the difference lies in the understanding of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Who is served first? God or man?