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“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
1: HARBOR THE HOMELESS
HOME. IT PLAYS AN IMPORTANT part in our lives. Have you ever wondered where you were going to sleep at night? There are nearly 100 million people in the world who have to ask that question every day.
CARDINAL DONALD WUERL
The well-known story of the Little Sisters of the Poor begins in 1839 when Jeanne Jugan, on a cold winter day, made the decision to bring in from the bitter weather an elderly, blind, infirm widow. As the story is related, the poor woman at this point in her life had no one to care for her and was in fact without a home. For more than 175 years since, the Little Sisters of the Poor, with their homes in more than thirty countries, have been opening their doors to people who might otherwise not have a home.
Homelessness today takes on many diverse forms, and how we respond to the corporal work of mercy to house the homeless must be equally creative. Jeanne Jugan, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on October 11, 2009, could not have carried out her work of mercy without the assistance of others capable of providing the necessary support, including the actual “home.”
Often when I make requests on behalf of Catholic Charities or other archdiocesan social service providers, I remind the faithful that while each one of us, individually, cannot always be there to respond to every person in need, and many times we simply do not have the personal resources to be able to meet that need, nonetheless we are still capable of being part of the answer. Nowhere is this truer than when we reply to the call to house the homeless.
Rarely and with few exceptions are we able to actually open the doors of our own homes and bring in the homeless. But we are able to see to it that they do have a “home.” We can also see to it that they receive many of the human amenities that we associate with our own homes.
When looking for a place to live, we may think in terms of “room and board”—a roof over our heads and regular meals. Providing a home for the homeless involves those elements. All over this country and certainly within the dioceses that I have been privileged to serve, there are shelters for the homeless staffed and operated by Catholic Charities or other Catholic social service providers. This happens only because there are many people who are willing to contribute those services that make possible the care in each facility.
Another example of housing the homeless is the countless “homes” run by Catholic housing services that provide modest yet dignified apartments, which would otherwise be beyond the grasp of people of greatly restricted means living on fixed minimum incomes.
But we also need to speak about the meals we associate with home. Once again my mind’s eye turns to those soup kitchens, meal vans, and parish food pantries that provide a meal for those in need.
A couple of years ago, in the Archdiocese of Washington, we came to realize that the many, many homeless who spend a night in a shelter are by law required to leave the shelter early each morning. They do so with empty pockets and empty stomachs. This led to a program called “A Cup of Joe.” As they leave, the homeless now can receive, through Catholic Charities, a brown bag containing what for them has become their regular breakfast. These are handed out by the thousands. And they are prepared by hundreds of volunteers young and old, including youngsters from our elementary and secondary schools, who now vie with one another to help the homeless.
In The Merchant of Venice, William Shakespeare writes, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d . . . is twice bless’d: it blesseth him who gives and him that takes.” How true it is! While we cannot always be present to meet every need of every homeless person or see that at any given moment they find room and board—a roof and meals—we can be a blessing to them and meet our own obligations toward them. While personally I cannot always be there, our institutions, our homes, our shelters, and Catholic Charities are all present all the time.
Not that long ago while in Rome for meetings, I walked along the colonnades to the right of the great facade of the Basilica of Saint Peter to find the newly installed showers for the poor. More recently I learned of the new shelter for the homeless going up on the via dei Penitenzieri, just a stone’s throw from the same square. Clearly the successor to Peter, Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis is in fact giving all of us an example of how today we can house the homeless.
There is yet another form of housing the homeless. This may touch a little closer to our own home. In John’s Gospel, as Jesus hangs on the cross, his concern now turns to his mother and what will become of her. Then he says to St. John, “Behold your mother.” The Gospel tells us, “And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:27). Sometimes the call to house the homeless brings with it the challenge of our own family members who may no longer be capable of that independence that has so marked their lives. In this time when we not only celebrate a Year of Mercy, but conclude two Synods of Bishops on the Family, we are reminded that our love and mercy must always begin at home. Family must always be home, the shelter for the lonely, disabled, or elderly family members who can no longer care for themselves. Family members should never feel homeless, no matter what their condition.
As Shakespeare pointed out, mercy is a two-way street. It is not something we do to others; it is a way in which we share together with others the human condition so that words such as brother and sister are not simply a manner of speaking but a manner of living.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl is the Archbishop of Washington and the best-selling author of many books, including The Catholic Way.
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Giving and receiving mercy is central to living the life God calls us to. We all need mercy at different times in our lives, and we all have an obligation to give mercy to others at different times in our lives. If you think about it, God’s mercy is overwhelmingly generous. He calls us to respond with the same spirit of generosity.
The perfect companion for the Year of Mercy called for by Pope Francis, Beautiful Mercy provides an encounter with the heart of God. By focusing on the seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy, it inspires readers to realize that extraordinary acts of love are possible for us all—no matter where we are in life.
Once again bringing to light the genius of Catholicism, bestselling author Matthew Kelly has enlisted the help of twenty-six incredible authors who witness to the power of God’s mercy, provide simple, practical tips on how to be an instrument of that mercy, and bring hope to anyone searching for deeper meaning in life.
This book will touch the core of who you are. In the end, we all need God’s mercy. So, no matter who you are, no matter what you have been through, there is no better time than right now to rediscover the incredible power of God’s mercy.
Beautiful Mercy is an invitation to rediscover God’s unconditional love so you can share it with others
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Product Type Media Books
Book Format Hardcover
Inspiring, Instructive, Enlightening and Diverse!
Beautiful stories from real people who learned how to perform the Corporal and Spiritual works of Mercy in their everyday lives.
The Pope, Religious, Converts, people from around the world who have found their path to Jesus and can help us find our way to Jesus through their example.
This book is thought provoking. Become inspired and change the world during this year of Mercy by reading Beautiful Mercy.
Loved this Book the Most
As a 60's child, I heard about the works of mercy but had no real idea what they were all about. This book clarified them beautifully and brought them up to date for me.
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