Reflections

The 7 virtual acts of Mercy - plus one

Bishop Richard Umbers

During this Jubilee Year of Mercy, CathNews Perspectives has been running reflections on mercy from some of Australia's Bishops. This week, one of our newest prelates, Sydney's Bishop Richard Umbers, reflects on a new set of acts of Mercy.

Following after Jesus comes with the requirement that we actually, you know, follow after Jesus. The Gospel of Matthew spells this out when Jesus says:

"Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 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'."Matthew 25:34-36

Alongside Tobit’s burying the dead we have listed here what tradition has bequeathed us as the traditional corporal works of mercy:

  1. To feed the hungry;
  2. To give drink to the thirsty;
  3. To clothe the naked;
  4. To harbour the harbourless;
  5. To visit the sick;
  6. To ransom the captive;
  7. To bury the dead.

In the same Godly vein, the spiritual works of mercy are:

  1. To instruct the ignorant;
  2. To counsel the doubtful;
  3. To admonish sinners;
  4. To bear wrongs patiently;
  5. To forgive offences willingly;
  6. To comfort the afflicted;
  7. To pray for the living and the dead.

For more information about these faith-filled works, that have inspired Catholics for millennia, you can read Mark Shea http://www.catholicity.com/commentary/shea/08036.html

Now, just because we travel Online does not mean that we can excuse ourselves from helping out a needy neighbor. It is right and just that we should give thanks to God always and everywhere. Even in Westworld – the HBO sci fi of technology gone wrong – as human beings made in the image and likeness of God we form good and bad habits and we either live in a grace-filled way or we do not. As the Year of Mercy draws to an end I would like to suggest the following concrete acts of charity in the spirit of our tradition but as performed with a smartphone.

Accordingly, voilà the following somewhat tongue-in-cheek listicle of the Virtual Works of Mercy:

1. I went searching on Google and you gave me good content.

Speak to people – Direct your presentation to a specific audience with questions that concern daily struggles. Who is your audience, what are you trying to share with them? In this way you can feed the hungry by giving them examples of how people just like them integrate the faith into life.

2. I was thirsty for the truth and you slaked my thirst with a pool of living water.

Engage with the issues – Don’t just go through the motions or write ‘happy talk’, do research. Would you want to read what you have written? Social media is just that – social. It is an exchange between individuals or groups. It should not be a bully pulpit, but a place in which to explore ideas and opportunities for the Church to engage in the virtual agora. Here, all the laity, as well as the religious and ordained, can give witness to Jesus by their Christian behaviour and observations.

3. I was naked in my reasoning and you clothed me with an argument that made sense.

Live charitably – Give the best interpretation and help people to save face even when you poke fun. Maybe you are in the right but justice alone hurts. Too often love is missing in the world of the internet, as people seek to score points, and not to connect with their peers. Make this a core part of how you deal with people on the web - even the most annoying trolls.

4. I was adrift in a sea of information and you gave me signposts to follow.

Get to the point – Know what you want to say and say it. Summarise and leave a link for those who want to know more: “the 5 key points of Laudato Si are … Click here to see Bishop Barron unpack what Pope St John Paul II meant by ecological conversion.” Don’t fight the snore wars. Get on, make the point, get off.

5. I was sick of seeing uber Catholic memes and you gave me something my atheist friends would stop and consider.

Make it shareable – Use content your neighbour can share with all sorts. Clickability and sharability are the two ways in which success can be measured in cyberspace. Speak of God, Christ, God’s love and mercy in a way which invites people to share with their own networks. Now, that’s the modern way to evangelise!

6. I was in the thrall of remnant politics and you spoke about God’s mercy.

Avoid hubris – we are not Trumps who will start ‘winning’ and make the Church great again: “I’m gonna build a communion rail, and it will be ten feet tall, and the German Cardinals are gonna pay for it.” We live by the grace of God. Suppose Abraham had dared ask God to spare Sodom if there were no righteous men to be found there? As St Paul assures us, Jesus died for all of us because we are all sinners. Yes we can admonish sinners but only with heavy hearts and in the full awareness that ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.

7. I got depressed reading about the Church but you buried my mournful witness to the Faith with serenity and supernatural outlook.

Be joyful and positive – Joy speaks to everybody. Our newly sainted Mother Theresa would say: Perhaps I don’t speak their language but I can smile. Peace and joy are fruits of the Holy Spirit. If a Blog only feeds despair and pessimism about the Church you can be sure they are not doing the work of God.

And for the bonus act of mercy that transcends body, soul, and mouse:

8. Care for our Common Home – we seek to live an integral ecology by going offline to spend sufficient time with in-life people and the necessary daily meditation that allows us to make an ethical reflection on our deeds and desires. To see what that means for media professionals, go no further than #49 of Laudato Si'https://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/laudato-si-49-cries-of-the-earth-of-the-poor/.

- Bishop Richard Umbers is an Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney

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