San Bernardino and mercy

The San Bernardino Press Enterprise reports that the Diocese of San Bernardino, in the wake of the terrorist shootings of government employees, sent out to parishes a series of prayers. One of them was, “Give us sympathetic hearts to reach out to those around us who are in deep grief — especially the children of our diocese who are suffering from fear, confusion and profound loss.” 

The diocese also encouraged people to ask Jesus to “grant us the grace to join with our law enforcement and public officials to be sources of change, of healing and of love.”

Thinking of the victims themselves, the perpetrators and the community, the faithful of San Bernardino prayed, “For the recent victims of terror and violence in our city and diocese, that they be freed from pain and fear. That all of us may be protected from the violence of others, be safe from weapons of hate and restored to tranquility and peace. For those who harm and oppress others, that they may receive the grace to change their lives and to learn to live in peace, we pray to the Lord.”

Father Manuel Cardoza, pastoral administrator of Our Lady of Hope Parish in San Bernardino, wrote to his parishioners in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, according to the Press Enterprise, and reminded them, “As Christians, we are called to love; loving those who hate us; loving those who curse us; loving those who attack us. That through us, hatred will turn to love; fear will be transformed to friendship; violence will be turned to peace; and all will know that God continues and will always walk with us. Let us pray for the city and that all anger and hatred be expelled from our hearts through the medicine of forgiveness and mercy.”

Having begun the Year of Mercy less than a week after the murders in San Bernardino, Father Cardoza’s words remind us that God’s mercy requires us to seek God’s forgiveness for ourselves and then to be agents of God’s mercy to other people.

Considering the seven Spiritual works of mercy, we can see how they apply to the present situation. The seventh one, praying for the living and the dead, we are already doing, although many have felt the need to say that “thoughts and prayers are not enough,” in response to these recurring situations of violence. The whole debate about what we should do as a country might, in part, fall under the work of admonishing sinners. At times the Holy Spirit demands that we speak out against injustice (although God would want us always to be self-critical, too).

We are also instructed to bear wrongs patiently and to forgive offenses willingly. Given the context of the work about correcting sinners, these two works are not about just letting evil run amok, but they do remind us that we cannot control everything and that even God the Son did both of these works.

Another Spiritual work is to comfort the afflicted (afflicting the comfortable is not from this list, although admonishing sinners might do that). There are plenty of victims of violence, in this country and around the world, to whom we can do this work.

The remaining two Spiritual works of mercy, instructing the ignorant and counseling the doubtful, can be carried out in various manners in this circumstance. People might be asking again, “Where was God?” Our teaching and our personal witness to the faith must help provide the answer, “He was with us, suffering with us and now helping us in our prayer and through good people.”

The seven corporal (bodily) works of mercy also come into play. Burying the dead is already being done.  Visiting the sick is being done by the Church’s ministers to the injured in the hospitals. Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked and giving shelter to the homeless might not seem relevant here, but actually they are, given the number of “breadwinners” who were killed at that Christmas party. Again, the Church and other charitable institutions, as well as individuals, will step into the breech. 

The last of the corporal works to be mentioned here, visiting the imprisoned, might be the hardest one for us to swallow. Of course, the San Bernardino killers are dead, but there are plenty of other jihadists and American-born killers who are in jail. This is not an easy work, but that’s why it is a work of mercy. Mercy is not always easy — it wasn’t easy for Jesus on Good Friday. Thanks be to God that there are Catholic ministers and volunteers who carry out this valuable work.

St. Bernardine of Siena, for whom the city in California was named, decided to give his entire life over to Christ and doing the Spiritual and corporal works of mercy after Jesus spoke to him from a crucifix. Jesus said, “My son Bernardine, you see Me hanging on the cross, in a state of total denudation. If you love Me and want to walk in My footsteps, fasten yourself also to the cross, divested of everything.”

Each of us, according to our states in life, are called to do this. We’ll give up everything, but get so much more back in return. Jesus promises us! If we live the works of mercy, they will be done for us, too. True, there will be disappointments at times (as there were and are for Jesus), but what good company we will have on that road.

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