Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016 New Years Resolutions

Most of us make New Years Resolutions such as losing weight, exercising more, eating better, breaking bad habits, or in some way improving ourselves. In this vein, I like to suggest a New Years Resolution that could dramatically change your life for the better; that is, becoming more Merciful.

In case you haven't heard, in the Roman Catholic faith tradition, 2016 is the Year of Mercy. (Note: Follow this link to the Vatican's Web Page, and this link to the Wikipedia article to learn more about the Year of Mercy.) So if you'd like to become more Merciful, I'd like to suggest some things you can do.

(Note: Follow this link to read the Wikipedia article on the 7 Spiritual and 7 Corporal Works of Mercy.    Attribution: Most of what follows is based on a religious track from Marian Press, Stockbridge, MA (800-804-3823,  and

Spiritual Works of Mercy

1. Admonish Sinners
Correction is sometimes as hard to give as it is to take. It means standing up for moral principles at work, at school, in politics, or in the home. It means taking time to give needed correction (even discipline), especially to children whose minds are impressionable and whose wills are not yet steadfast in truth.

Much of what I write about in this blog is in this vein. It's very hard to stand up for what is right and shine a light on what is wrong. Sometimes it can even cost you your livelihood, your marriage, your friends, or your life. Standing up for the truth cost Socrates, St. John the Baptizer, Jesus,  St. Stephen the Martyr, St. Peter, St. Paul, and millions like them their lives!   

2. Instruct the Ignorant
Ignorance isn't an insult; it just means that you do not know something. Not everyone can be a teacher, but taking time to help a child with their homework, showing the ropes to a new employee at work, sharing your knowledge with fellow employees, or teaching our family members different things are all good ways to instruct the ignorant. How many times have we asked a store clerk where to find something in the store? And they'll instruct ignorant us where to find it.

In my career, I've run across so many employees who refused to share their knowledge with others possibly because of their misguided belief that their job security was based on being the keeper of odd knowledge. Don't be like that! Share what you know with others and raise the collective knowledge base of your organization. What good is knowledge if it's not shared?

3. Counsel the Doubtful
Advice is cheap, so the saying goes, but counsel implies something more loving. It's a Christian approach to solving problems. Doubts about one's faith, about moral issues, marriage, or questions arising from death or divorce do not need a brush-off with a lame excuse. Doubts need instruction in the Christian point of view. The world has their way of dealing with doubts, but God has a much better way of dealing with doubts. Help others by pointing them in a more positive direction.

4. Comfort the Sorrowful
Sorrow and suffering take many forms: death, divorce, grave illness, unemployment, family problems, mental distress, surgery, etc. How many of these sorrows afflict the people around us and yet go unnoticed without so much as a kind word, without so much as a whispered prayer? Sometimes giving a sympathetic ear or just "being with" a sorrowing person is a great act of mercy.

5. Bear Wrongs Patiently
Patience - the bane of the world which hurries only to have to stand in line. Strive for patience with the small child's constant prattling or the chronic complaint of the elderly. Try patience with the slowness of the freeway traffic or the drudgery of a job. Maintain patience with those who never say a kind word, with those whose nagging puts your teeth on edge. Have patience with your own personal pain and suffering; don't add to the the griping around you. Oftentimes, the best reply to insults and accusations is silence. Don't lower yourself to other people's level by returning insult for insult, criticism for criticism, hatred for hatred, or bad behavior for bad behavior. That only perpetuates evil. Instead bear wrongs patiently and return love for evil.

6. Forgive Offenses
Forgive the sharp criticism, the angry retort so easily and thoughtlessly said. Physical injuries heal faster than mental or spiritual ones; dwelling on a wrong only increases its size, breeding hatred, the antithesis of Christ's love. Injuries, voluntary or involuntary, are inescapable; forgiveness heals them.

Forgiving takes so much less energy than hating. Forgiveness is a verb and it takes time so you have to continually practice it especially towards those who deeply hurt you.

7. Pray for the Living and the Dead
It is impossible to physically aid the many people - even those in our own families - who need our help. But we can reach out to them in prayer. All people, living or dead, benefit from a remembrance in prayer, including those praying.

Corporal Works of Mercy

1. Feed the Hungry
2. Give Drink to the Thirsty
These two works of mercy start out in the home, from the hot meal on the table or the cup of water for a child, and extend to the community. The unemployed, the elderly, and the sick benefit from care programs, but these programs are ineffective without food donations, cash contributions, and volunteered time. The doer of mercy can also support national and religious relief organizations and self-help projects such as the vendor on the street, a refugee vegetables stand at the market, or the repair shop run by a minority group. Rather than patronizing the big-box stores and large service providers, patronize the small mom-and-pop businesses.

3. Cloth the Naked
Our Savior tells us that if a person has two coats, he should give one away. Perhaps the need isn't apparent in the immediate neighborhood, but it does exist. Go through your closet and find clothing to donate to the needy or local refugee aid groups. Without the excess, storage problems disappear. 

4. Shelter the Homeless
The unemployed living in cars or abandoned tunnels and caves are in desperate straits, and those who help them need both material and spiritual support. Aging relatives may be just as homeless when they must leave their homes for apartments or are made to feel unwelcome - even as visitors - in the homes of their kin. The refugees transplanted to the strange country, the building tenants forced out of their apartment by fire or eviction, the battered wife or unwed mother on her own are all homeless in need of shelter, companionship, and help in resettlement.

Homelessness is a huge problem here in Southern California (I suppose because the weather is so nice). It's not normal to want to be homeless. Many homeless folks are mentally-ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol, and don't even want help. Rather than enabling these kinds of homeless people by giving them money, instead donate to organizations who try to help the homeless like Father Joe's Villages.

5. Comfort the Imprisoned
Helping captives or the imprisoned is not limited to joining prison volunteer organizations. Some people are imprisoned within the walls of their own homes  - the handicapped, the sick, the elderly, the new mother. For them, ransom may be a visit, a shipping trip, a helping hand once a week, or merely a short chat on the telephone.

6. Visit the Sick
Hospital visits or the semi-weekly trudges to the nursing home are often viewed with chagrin. But put yourself in the sick person's shoes. A short visit to a hospital room, a neighbor's bedside, or the local nursing home is time-consuming, but for the person being visited, the time given is very precious.

7. Bury the Dead
Plague-ridden bodies no longer litter the streets. Modern funeral practices have taken the details of caring for the dead off our hands. But the personal expression of sympathy, the hug or handshake at the vigil or funeral service, or the donation of food are important to the grieving. the ceremonies remember the dead, but we are expected to support the living in their sorrow.

Most of us who've had beloved pets bury them in the back yard when they die. It's our way of honoring God's creatures who've given us so much love in their short lives. 

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