In a previous post on the Year of Mercy I reflected on doorways, thresholds and the Rite of Acceptance. In this one I would like to consider the place of the corporal works of mercy in the RCIA.
First,a reminder of what the corporal works of mercy are:
- to feed the hungry
- to give drink to the thirsty,
- to clothe the naked,
- to shelter the homeless,
- to visit the sick and imprisoned, and
- to bury the dead.
The list derives from Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: 31-46, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food…’
In the Catechumenate the formation is built on four pillars: church teaching, prayer and liturgy, the church community, and witness and apostolic activity (cf. RCIA 75, 78). The intention is that there is balance between these strands to build up disciples — if pillars are uneven the structure collapses! I suspect that in our practice we are most comfortable with the first and become less so as we move through the four.
A Team Task – a Mercy audit
The would be a good task for any parish in the Year of Mercy — so the results may shared by the RCIA Team with the whole parish. This is probably a task for the wider team, involving sponsors as well.
- Look at the list of the corporal works of mercy.
- Under each one note how your parish engages with it.
- For each work think broadly – you may not have parish gravediggers but you may have bereavement teams.
- Once you have compiled the list do some simple analysis:
- What is done directly?
- What is done indirectly? (i.e. we raise funds for clean water in Africa)
- Where are the gaps?
It is not the task of the RCIA Team to necessarily fill the gaps but at least to be aware of the portrait of the parish.
Invitation & Apprenticeship
The Year of Mercy reminds us that to be a follower of Jesus is to engage in works of mercy – to be active. The purpose of the task is to identify ways that catechumens might be invited to engage in the parish’s apostolic activity and outreach. To help in the homeless shelter, to contribute to the food bank, to visit the sick and the housebound — to be apprentices in the life of witness.
Try to make the invitation and expectation real. We easily fall into a model of what I remember careers guidance at school being — a series of quick tastes of an unknown future. Like Jesus, our invitation should be ‘Come and see’. But how can you help each catechumen to engage apostolic activity.
The catechumen’s experience of the Corporal Works of Mercy need to be reflected upon. Space given so that they can come back, like the 72 in this Sunday’s Gospel, to recount what they have seen and heard. This should lead to the question at the heart of the parable of the sheep and the goats, ‘When did we see you?’ Where in their works of mercy have the catechumens encountered Christ?