The next spiritual work of mercy highlights an act of charity we tend to avoid. “Comforting the afflicted” is often looked down upon because we are told that suffering is a sign of weakness. This means many of us will never bring up our affliction in front of others if fear of appearing to be weak.
Additionally, we are afraid of suffering and so staring it in the face makes us feel uncomfortable.
Instead of dealing with the suffering in our lives and going to others for comfort, we are told to “mask” our suffering by numbing it. We do this through coping mechanisms and try to “drink” our sorrows away or even watch TV to ignore our affliction.
Masking our suffering has culminated in recent years through “eliminating” in abortion or euthanasia. We are told that suffering should not exist and must sweep it all under the rug.
It should come as no surprise that “comforting the afflicted” makes us so uncomfortable. We don’t want to hear about suffering, because it reminds us of our own suffering. Yet, performing this work of mercy is exactly what we need. In a very real way, “comforting the afflicted” has spiritual benefits for both parties. Not only does the afflicted person feel “heard,” but also the person listening becomes an image of Christ, who bore all of our sufferings on the wood of the cross. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We should not be afraid of our suffering, but take it to Christ and sometimes that means we need to take it to the “Christs” in our midst. It is not a sign of weakness to share your suffering with someone. In fact, it takes great courage.
Pray for the Living and the Dead
The final spiritual work of mercy is simple and accessible to all: “pray for the living and the dead.” However, it is very easy to forget to pray for others in our “me” centered culture. While it is appropriate to ask God for what we desire that should not be the center of our prayer life. The world does not revolve around us.
Praying for others helps us acquire the virtue of charity and combat the sins of pride and greed. If we think and pray more about others, we will have a very fruitful prayer life that imitates the love and care that God has for us.
However, praying for others does not stop once they are buried in a cemetery. The dead need our prayers as we do not know their final destination. Most likely they are in purgatory (we have no way of knowing) and our prayers help them draw closer to Heaven. This practice is as ancient as the Jewish people and can be found in the book of Maccabees:
“[Judas Maccabeus] turned to prayer beseeching that the sin which had been committed might be wholly blotted out… He also took up a collection... and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably… Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin” (II Maccabees 12:39-46).
The need for atonement for sins after death is again revisited in the Gospels and in the letters of the New Testament. In the Gospels Jesus makes a reference to Purgatory:
“Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:25-26).
The most obvious text in the New Testament comes from St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians:
“For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire” (I Corinthians 3:11-15).
This is the most explicit reference to Purgatory in the Bible and speaks of our final judgement and the need to be saved “through fire.” We in turn are asked to pray for our deceased family and friends in a similar way that we are asked to pray for the living. Both the living and the dead (those in Purgatory) suffer trials and both are in need of prayers to help alleviate the time and pain endured.
Whenever we pray for the dead, we should always seek to examine our own lives and contemplate the state of our soul.
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- A Little Example of Great Mercy - St. Maria Goretti
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- How is God Merciful?
- What is the Year of Divine Mercy & Why Do We Need It?