The Corporal Works of Mercy (Latin Mass)

Latin Mass: Quinquagesima Sunday
Friends in Christ, in 1864, a young missionary got his dream of being sent to the South Sea Islands. The ship carrying Father Damien de Veuster[i] arrived at the then-primitive Island of Hawaii. This energetic young man set out to build churches and chapels with his own hands, and taught the natives about Jesus. In 9 years, Father Damien had thriving congregations of converts.
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Then came the day in which he was present at a Mass offered by the bishop. The bishop spoke glowingly of all the efforts at bringing Christ to the people of the islands, but then his voice changed, and he spoke of more that must be done. He spoke of the dreaded island of Molokai. It was the island where everyone was sent who had come down with the horrid disease of leprosy. The bishop’s voice quivered – ‘those lepers need Christ,’ he said. No sooner had he paused in his speech than did 4 young priests, including Damien, spring to their feet and plead to be sent.
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The bishop’s eyes filled with tears as he gazed at those 4 young, earnest faces. The one chosen would never come back, and would certainly contract the dreaded illness. Damien pleaded his case, arguing that the other 3 were less experienced and could easily take over the churches he had already begun.   And so he was chosen.
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From the day he stood on the shore, and watched the ship sail away, his life became an embrace of the disfigured, the diseased, and the dying. He was not afraid to touch them and share his meals with them, because he knew that eventually he would have it anyway. He set to work building them huts, bathing their wounds, and sanctifying their souls. Yes, he anointed many who were dying, built many coffins, and buried people every day. But he built a community full of hope; he taught them that suffering was temporary, until heaven; he gave people a reason for living: Eternal Life.
Ultimately he did contract the disease; then he was able to say, ‘I also am one of you!’ St. Damien of Molakai was often called, the happiest missionary in the world.
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Friends in Christ, There are 7 Corporal Works of Mercy: Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless, bury the dead, and visit the sick. These are ways that we are called to care for the bodily- that is, the ‘corporal’ needs of our neighbor. We cannot claim to be a Christian if we turn our back on those in need.
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There is a movie coming out soon called ‘Little boy;’ it is about a boy whose dad is away at war, he wants him home; he is told to pray that he comes home, to pray with faith, and the priest tells him to do the Corporal works of mercy which he tries to do perfectly, and this shows his faith. St. James says that we have real faith if we do these works of mercy.
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So: To feed the hungry:
Everyone needs food, so we have to help others. We can bring food to our food pantry, or we might know a family on our block that has a hard time making ends meet: ‘I got a great deal on all these eggs, here, we can’t use all of them.’ We can carry a food card in our wallet, to give people who approach us, and give to charities who fight starvation in other countries.
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To clothe the naked.
Everyone needs clothing. Many put clothes in our Vincent de Paul box, or give to other organizations. We could consider tithing 10% of our money; give 5% to the Church, and 5% to a good charity.
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Visit the imprisoned:
If we have a relative or neighbor in jail, we should go visit them, write to them. Our visit shows them that even though they have to pay for a crime, they are still loved by God. We could visit people in drug rehab or send them letters.
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Shelter the homeless:
Homeless shelters need financial support; homes for abused women or pregnancy help centers. But we should think too of the other ‘homeless.’ Neighbor kids who receive no affection in their home – invite them to stay for lunch, have a sleep-over, be one of those homes that the neighbor children love to be at.
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Bury the Dead:
We take off work to attend funerals; we have Masses offered, pray for our beloved dead, and visit their grave.
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Visit the sick:
In the Gospel today, we see this blind man comes to Jesus, and he says: ‘Lord, that I may see. And Jesus said to him: Receive thy sight. And immediately he saw and followed Him.
 But Our Lord did not heal every sick person on earth. Maybe he wants to teach us something, something about charity. Only when someone is sick, is there an opportunity for us to overcome our inconvenience and go visit him.
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Catholics used to be known for our care for the sick; it was our hallmark. Everyone knew that Catholics visited their sick friends in the hospital. But today this is not happening; I see many sick persons who are not visited. It is a scandal. It is a sin. It is a sign that the Christian faith is not in our homes or souls.
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‘And he will say to those on his left, depart from me into the everlasting fire, for I was hungry and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ (Matt 25:41)
To neglect those in need is to neglect Jesus.
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In 1367 Blessed John Colombini[ii] dedicated his life to helping the sick. One day he found a man half dead, covered with sores. Touched to the heart, he carried him home and put him in his own bed. But when he brought his wife to see the man, to their surprise, he was not there, only a heavenly fragrance filled the room. Later, Jesus appeared and thanked him, because he WAS that sick man.
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Works of mercy actually help us as well. In so acting, we become changed. Acts of charity destroy selfishness, and happiness grows in our heart. My mother used to say, ‘When you feel sad, do something nice for someone else;’ but she was only following Jesus words, who tells us ‘give, and you will receive,’ and it will be given back to you in abundance.
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At the cross, Mary gazed on the wounded Jesus, her Son;
‘Who will compassion him?, she asks.
Mary, we will compassion him. We will help those who are hungry, or thirsty, or naked, or in prison, or homeless, or sick.
We will Mary, because when we do it for one of these, we are doing it for Thy Son.

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[Entrusted to the prayers of St. Nicholas]

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[i] He may have been a Brother at this time, and then ordained a priest upon arriving at Hawaii.

[ii] from How to Comfort the Sick and the Dying, p. 21.

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