By Paul McMullen
An elderly parishioner painstakingly makes his way forward to receive Communion at one of the churches that comprise Our Lady of the Mountains in Cumberland.
“Do you want me to bring Communion to your pew?” his pastor has asked.
“No,” the man has replied. “This is my pilgrimage.”
That anecdote, related by Capuchin Franciscan Father Gregory Chervenak, speaks to the compassion expressed in the letter Pope Francis wrote in September about the granting of an indulgence during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8.
Not all can make a pilgrimage to locally designated sites, such as the eight in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, let alone travel to Rome and enter St. Peter’s Basilica through the Holy Door.
That is why Pope Francis reaches out to that man in Cumberland and the shut-in whose only opportunity to experience Mass is through her radio or TV: “Living with faith and joyful hope this moment of trial, receiving Communion or attending holy Mass and community prayer, even through the various means of communication, will be for them the means of obtaining the jubilee indulgence.”
Most, meanwhile, are positioned to experience God’s mercy by exercising our spiritual muscles in accordance with our means. The simplest way is to follow the Holy Father’s invitation to “rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy.”
The spiritual works:
Counsel the doubtful; instruct the ignorant; admonish sinners; comfort the afflicted; forgive offenses; bear wrongs patiently; and pray for the living and the dead.
The corporal works:
Feed the hungry; give drink to the thirsty; clothe the naked; visit the imprisoned; shelter the homeless; visit the sick; and bury the dead.
You don’t have to re-invent the wheel to model the works of mercy. Just emulate some of the examples on the preceding pages.
The woman from St. Athanasius in Curtis Bay who helps a friend get to his chemotherapy sessions gives witness to both spiritual and corporal works. Adults from St. Joan of Arc in Aberdeen speak to the corporal works, as does anyone who provides a casserole to Our Daily Bread and Beans and Bread.
Praying by name for the priests and deacons who died in December is a spiritual work of mercy – as is waving in, rather than cursing at, an impatient driver.
It is easy to embrace those works during the seasons of Advent and Christmas. The challenge comes later, which is where a traditional pilgrimage comes into play. Whether it is to Poland for World Youth Day next July or to the Shrine of St. Anthony in Ellicott City, the transformative sacrifice of a pilgrimage dovetails ever so neatly with the works of mercy.
I made a vow to Father Chervenak, to visit Cumberland’s Shrine of Ss. Peter and Paul during the holy year. The clock will soon start ticking.
What am I waiting for?
What are you waiting for?
Paul McMullen is managing editor of the Catholic Review.
Click here for more stories about the Holy Year of Mercy.