“The Works of Mercy are Innumerable”

“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God for you. Consider how their lives ended and imitate their faith. “ (Hebrews 13, 7)

Let’s listen to a leader of our church, St. Leo the Great who preached a sermon about prayer, fasting and almsgiving, the three usual recommendations for our lenten season, on Ash Wednesday. He led the Roman church early in the 5th century. The times were troubled, maybe somewhat like ours.

Barbarian tribes were pouring through Rome’s defenses along the Rhine River on its northern frontier then, threatening the Italian peninsula. In fear, most of Rome’s elite left for the safety of Constantinople, the empire’s new center. The army was not capable of defending the city. Those remaining barricaded themselves in their homes with everything they had, convinced the world was ending.

As Lent began Leo preached this sermon on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Pray, fast and give alms. Yet the pope’s eye focused on the most important of these lenten recommendations for his time – almsgiving. 

Leo puts it in more elegant language than mine, but he tells his people “It’s time to stick together.”    

“There is no more profitable practice as a companion to holy and spiritual fasting than that of almsgiving. This embraces under the single name of mercy many excellent works of devotion, so that the good intentions of all the faithful may be of equal value, even where their means are not.,,  The works of mercy are innumerable. Their very variety brings this advantage to those who are true Christians, that in the matter of almsgiving not only the rich and affluent but also those of average means and the poor are able to play their part. Those who are unequal in their capacity to give can be equal in the love within their hearts.”

“The works of mercy are innumerable.” Rich or poor can show mercy, according to what you can do, I hear the pope saying. You may not be able to go to church as you did in another Lent, or pray some prayers you said before, or give up some things you did in other years, but you can reach out to others in these unsettled times. Forget yourself and think of someone  else and do something for them. “The works of mercy are innumerable.” Love makes them all equal. 

I hear Pope Francis talking like that too.  What can we do for others?

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