Re-Imagining the Spiritual Works of Mercy

November 3, 2015

By Sister Marlene Perrotte and Sister Joan Brown, OSF

As we draw closer to the Year of Mercy, we recall Pope Francis’ guidelines on how to live in the spirit of mercy:

“It is my burning desire that, during this Jubilee, the Christian people may reflect on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.” 

Sister Marlene Perrotte reflects on the Spiritual Works of Mercy through the lens of Earth’s current ecological crisis and its impact on those most vulnerable. Read her reflection on the Corporal Works of Mercy, posted last month.

“Save the Earth for our Children’s Children,” painting by Sister Joyce Ogden

“Save the Earth for our Children’s Children,” painting by Sister Joyce Ogden

Convert the Sinners encompasses a heightened consciousness and cognizance of what constitutes sin. Geocide (destruction of the earth) and diminishment of life on the planet for future generations are social sins. Conversion of sinners requires a change in lifestyle along with a sustainable energy economy and standard of living. We must engage power structures to dramatically restructure our economic and technological systems.   

Instruct the Ignorant demands more than the 4R’s: reading, ’riting, ’rithmatic and religion. In the Buddhist tradition, the ignorant are those whose eyes have not been opened to reality. Instructing the ignorant in our day involves a change in worldview where water, earth, air and people are not perceived as commodities to assist in profit making. We must understand that we can no longer be engaged in dualistic thinking that separates us from the rest of the living earth and prevents us from deeply knowing that we are all one.

Counsel the Doubtful carries hope in the Spirit of Love. These critical times of ecological collapse are fraught with hopelessness. We humans carry within our hearts, cells and flesh all 13.7 billion years of the history of universe. Hope is the vitality that drives the courage to be—to actuate—potential. Hope is the energy force from within that evokes the desire to heal, restore and regenerate what is needed to continue the story of life. We cannot continue to destroy the wonder and awe of the amazing life on this planet. We must be carriers of hope to the hopeless. Where there is hope, there is life. Where there is life, there is possibility. Where there is possibility, change can occur.

Comfort the Sorrowful embraces those who are grieving the loss of family, job, home and health. Depression and anxiety have reached epidemic proportions. The sorrowful are also those grieving the loss of their land through mountain top removal, drought and salty sea water permeation. The sorrowful are not just the human family. The sorrowful are the entire Earth community. We are experiencing collective heartaches of conscious creatures. To comfort the sorrowful means shedding tears from a contemplative heart that is sensitive enough to embrace the scars of the world.

Bear Wrongs Patiently comprises nonviolence or the path of harmlessness. Bearing wrongs patiently does not mean remaining silent in face of structural injustice. We are called to engage in the long, arduous struggles of resisting war, demanding clean water, building equitable economies and mitigating for people suffering from climate change. We need humility, patience and endurance to confront the wrongs of the world.

Forgive Injuries requires magnanimity of heart. Injuries can be perpetrated very consciously without remorse, or they can be the unintended result of actions by ignorance of the offender. Both can be deeply harmful and can cause horrific suffering. It is extremely difficult to renounce bitterness and rancor. Memory shapes the field of perception. Memories of suffering can be a source of transformation. We are summoned to deep wisdom which moves us out of the grip of a prevailing consciousness. We can learn from our injuries and sufferings and with a blessed rage overcome old insights and work for transformation. We do this by building supportive communities. We bond in solidarity with others to redirect blessed rage with a cosmic moral vision and to strive toward transforming socializing structures to mitigate the damage that the injuries have caused or that eliminate the causes of the injuries.

Pray for the Living and the Dead exhorts us to enter the profound mystery of being one with all. This invitation is an intimate call of the heart to embrace the communion of the sacred, which includes the vastness of the entire planet: humans, earth, water, air, and all plants and creatures.

As governments of more than 190 nations prepare to gather in Paris to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, learn more and sign the Catholic Climate Petition.

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  1. mary stanton

    Your message is challenging me in many ways. Your words bring new life and breadth to the works of mercy – both spiritual and corporal. I have not seen you in so long – my llama sweater is still serving me well in the coldest of days after 30 years or more! Joyce’s art always comes from her sensitive, pure heart. Thank you all.
    with love and blessing, Mary


  2. Sister Michelle Gorman, RSM Sacramento

    Thank you, Marlene and Joan for bringing the spiritual works of mercy to life for us. Many blessings! Michelle


  3. Amy Hoey, RSM

    Thanks very much. Your reflections are a gift to all of us as we begin this year of Mercy. I hope to share them with our sisters who are In our assisted living. Blessings on your own ministries.
    Amy